Focus On The Greely Family: Sending Encouragement to Those on the Front Lines

Jen Greely with her family

My husband David and I are both self-employed. I’m an artist; primarily a printmaker and painter. All of my art shows have been canceled – along with summer plans for a printmaking residency. The Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, where I regularly worked using the printing presses and darkroom, has also closed. After working with the kids schooling during the day, I’m now trying to maintain a home-studio practice in the late afternoons and evenings. David is an economist and has been working the last several months on launching his own company – the future of which is now quite uncertain. So, we will both be looking at how to pivot our work and hopefully find a way forward. 

As an artist, I am used to working alone and having stretches of quiet time to think and create. Having three kids at home 24/7 who are distance-learning through school, means very little time for my work. Even when I manage time in the studio, it is hard to quiet the mind and escape anxiety about what the future looks like in a post-pandemic world. I know that my artwork will change – but in what way remains unclear. I mean, all artwork is influenced by time, place, and events of the day. I will just keep showing up in the studio, doing the work, and trusting the process.  

We are spending loads of time with the kids (Xavier, 14, 8th grade; Nathaniel, 12, 6th grade; Maeve, 8, 3rd grade). In addition to their schoolwork, we’ve worked on family art projects (right now we are painting rocks to hide around town), lots of games (favorites seem to be Apples to Apples, Kids Against Humanity, Exploding Kittens, and my oldest has created a new Dungeons and Dragons campaign for us to do as a family – I am now a Sorcerer named Hazel Mylove). The kids are all trying something new, but each week this seems to change. This week our youngest is learning to code via Khan Academy, our 6th grader is learning to cook with online Gordon Ramsey videos through Masterclass, and our 8th grader is fiddling around with music on a keyboard. I’m also spending an inordinate amount of time in the backyard with my daughter’s flock of chickens. It’s easy to escape the daily stream of bad news while watching chickens be chickens.  

Westport has been incredibly quick-acting and responsive to this crisis. I am immensely grateful for the daily town communications via emails and texts. Truly admirable as well are the school district’s administrators and teachers who have been trying to provide our kids with a sense of community and stability in learning during enormous upheaval. 

I fervently hope that we, as a collective humanity, start to truly view ourselves as part of an intricately entwined global community. This virus has infected nearly every country in the world within the span of a single season, regardless of borders. Countries are needing to partner with one another, share information and data freely in order to learn how best to prevent and treat infections. In our country we have been so divided, and remain divided across different states and across our physical borders. After this plays out, and the tragedy and loss of life is largely in the past, I hope that there is a renewed sense that we have all been in this together. We are sending healthy thoughts to friends who are sick, and strong encouragement to those who are in the hospitals fighting on the front lines. Be well, be strong, all. 

I fervently hope that we, as a collective humanity, start to truly view ourselves as part of an intricately entwined global community.

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On the Kaplan Family: An Ordinary Family Living Thru an Extraordinary Time.

Amy Kaplan is an artist, an event planner and an elected RTM member. She, her husband and two kids have lived in Westport for 20 years.

My son was supposed to study abroad in Shanghai China, leaving February 8. So we became aware of Corona Virus early, as the virus began to sweep Wuhan and China enacted quarantines. Initially, he was offered a spot in Australia as an alternative, but he decided to take the semester off instead and get a job. After working on Amy Klobuchar’s campaign in Tennessee, he took a job as a campaign consultant for a candidate in North Carolina. That’s when the virus hit Westport. Under the threat of some kind of national shelter in place rule, his new boss sent everyone home to work remotely. He joins my husband working from home for now. My husband’s company manufactures in China, so again, we’ve been watching this unfold with dread since January. At first, he was on the phone with Chinese co-workers expressing our concern for them. Now the shoe is on the other foot.  

At first, [my husband] was on the phone with Chinese co-workers expressing our concern for them. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

My events are canceled or postponed, and my RTM work has been on hold as we try to adapt to a new process of holding public meetings. As an artist, it’s been a bit of a bright spot because with fewer “important” errands and meetings canceled, I have more guilt-free time in my studio. I’m finding I need that time more than ever, just to lose that ever-present anxiety for a time. 

The biggest challenge for me is to keep my high school senior connected to these last few weeks of her Westport Public School career. After a crazy few days, she had finally worked out a schedule that worked for her- sleeping till noon, but then doing all the work required during the afternoon and evening hours, taking breaks on her own time. Then, school sent an email requiring them to all sign in at 8:30 am and work from 8:30-12:15. Apparently the lack of schedule was difficult for some…but I can say with certainty that adhering to this rigid schedule in the midst of this crazy time is not going to go well in this house. 

We are just an ordinary family living thru an extraordinary time. This is a time when I was mentally preparing to be an empty nester, but as it turns out, both our children are here with us, and I’m grateful that we are together. In a way it reminds me of when they were young, with lots of noise and laundry! But it’s also a privilege to be with them as “almost adults”, when we can relate to each other as family members and friends, and share our solutions and work-arounds with each other. Hopefully we’ll share some laughs as well, even in these trying times. Mostly, we are ok. We’ll all get through this in our own way, so don’t be afraid to chart your own way behind your closed front door. But come out and wave sometimes! 

I do love that people are finding virtual and alternative ways to connect and support each other but I’m not so thrilled at the selfishness displayed by hoarding and refusal to social distance properly. I think our town leaders are doing the best they can in a difficult situation, but I wish they had been more forthcoming originally about the level of exposure here in town. To be fair, I’m not sure they got accurate info themselves right away. I just feel people might have taken quarantine more seriously if we understood that it wasn’t just people at the infamous party that were exposed. Those exposed people attended many other events that weekend and into the following week before school closed. There was a concern about people being blamed, but, honestly, I’ve not heard one person online or in real life, express that. Mostly people just wanted info to try to retrace their steps or to understand their own potential for exposure. Many of us live with or love vulnerable high-risk people, and just want to keep them safe. I sincerely hope our town officials are advocating vociferously for us behind the scenes with the state and federal agencies. 

I’m worried we are going to lose a lot of amazing people who still have so much to offer the world. I’m worried that my husband’s business will collapse, that my son will not graduate from college and still have student loans to pay. I’m worried that my daughter will not set off across the country next year, to claim her own future. I’m worried that Trump will seize this to declare elections unsafe or invalid to solidify his power and not leave office. I’m worried companies will find they only need half the staff they previously employed, and that this will not be a pause in the American economy, but the beginning of a free fall. 

I’m spending a lot of time calling, emailing, face-timing and offering to get food or necessities for neighbors. I’ve set up a virtual cocktail hour on Zoom with a friend for our artists group. 

 I’m jumping in on this oral history project to stay connected and to build something from this time that we can look back on. 

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Quincy Cuthbertson & Family: The College Perspective

Quincy Cuthbert has spent all of her 18 years in Westport, having been born and raised in the town. She is a college student who has come home to Westport after school closed due to Corona Virus. According to her profile at the school, Quincy is a Drexel University student majoring in Civil Engineering and Business with ambitions to design and build roller coasters, for which she has already placed in competitions at well-known theme parks. 

The most striking change in all this is that I now have to live at home and still be a full-time student. It is strange being back in town yet not being able to spend time with my friends, or go out and enjoy everything Westport has to offer.  

Everything happened so fast, and each day a new precaution is introduced but Westport is adapting at a rate I didn’t even think was possible. Even though we are all self-isolating in our houses we are really working together. There is a joke that if you grew up in Westport, you’re used to living in a bubble, this definitely brings new meaning to that.  

My family is incredibly close, and in this moment, I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else. I am thankful we could all be under the same roof, but we still have moments. Sometimes we have to self-isolate from one another, not because of the virus but because we are all fantastic at pushing each other’s buttons.  

My family is incredibly close, and in this moment, I wouldn’t want to be with anyone else.

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On The Griffiths Family: Facing Challenges Head On

The Griffiths family found their home in Westport 5 years ago, having immigrated to Connecticut from Cape Town, South Africa, 11 years ago. Dad, Warren, is a Global Media Investment President at Publicis Media, a road warrior who spends a lot of his work time traveling globally. His wife Mariet is the Marketing Director at Westport Museum and mom to second grader Sadie and Staples sophomore Sydney.  

“We have faced much adversity, and challenges in our nomadic lives,” says Warren. “and we have always faced them head on. There is no doubt that this is one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced as a family, however we are an extremely positive family, pragmatists at heart, and lean into headwinds. Mariet has been incredible, as she marshals our homelife, home schooling the kids, work and keeping everything on track. The mothers are the real family superheroes during these challenging times! 

All of our direct family are based overseas in South Africa and the UK, and being so far from loved ones can be very scary at times, especially now with all travel restrictions.  

We remind ourselves constantly that we are fortunate to live in a first world country where information, medical support, and leadership structures are strong, to effectively fight these kinds of threats.  

Like everyone we have fully integrated our working and school lives into home school and virtual work. No longer spending time at airports, planes and boardrooms in different corners of the planet, and 100% of the time at home now. Video conferencing and virtual tools have become the new normal. I tend to be putting many more productive hours into my day since I have no commute times, but there is a challenge in that the work-life barrier has become a bit fuzzy.  

A positive side effect is that we are spending so much more wonderful time, video-chatting and reconnecting with friends, family and loved ones across the globe. 

We are spending so much more quality time with the family over (full attendance) meals, long put off chores around the house finally being checked off, evening walks and bike rides around the neighborhood (keeping safe distances) and teaching our 8-year-old how to ride a bike, while our 16-year-old learns to skateboard. 

What I see around us on a town level has been a mix of fear and responsible community actions. There is a definite underlying stress and apprehension around “what happens next?”, and “how bad is it going to get?”, but also a wonderful coming together and comradeship, as neighbors offer to help neighbors, and sharing of information and experiences is everywhere. 

My hope is that this disease will be short lived, and will not negatively impact our community too dramatically, that we learn positive new life skills through these challenges, and that we learn to value time and loved ones more.   

The silver lining in this pandemic is that it has slowed down the manic minute-by-minute nature of modern life, allowing us to appreciate each other more, and take a deep breath. My fear is that the disease continues long enough to leave a deep permanent scar on our lives and community or that someone we know and love might get very ill. 

The silver lining … is that it has slowed down the manic minute-by-minute nature of modern life, allowing us to appreciate each other more, and take a deep breath.

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.

Focus On Jill Rizack: Moving from “It’s Mine” to “It’s Ours”

Jill Rizack is a graphic designer who owns Blush Waters, a company that specializes in event invitations in Greenwich. She and her husband have four adult children aged 25, 23, 20 and 18, all of whom have returned home during the Corona Virus crisis. The family has lived in Westport for 18 years. Jill’s business is on hold since her work centers around weddings, engagements, bar mitzvahs, and other group events. 

“I have my four adult children here. They live in four different states and the fact that we are all together–which only happens twice a year now– is my silver lining. It’s an adjustment for all of us. They are used to doing things their own way and I like things my own but every night we are sitting down together, and we are all hanging out at the table talking after we eat and that’s kind of cool. 

I returned to my work as a graphic designer 2 ½ years ago after staying home to raise our children. I started my own company in October and have a studio called Blush Waters in Greenwich on the Avenue.  There was just enough work to pay the bills and I was hoping to grow and give work to other designers as well, but then this happened. My landlord has been amazing he’s lowered rent and said going forward we can address the situation month to month. 

I continue to work at home doing complimentary design for my clients to help them announce change of date or a that new date will be decided. For example, I just got off the phone with a bride who was supposed to get married in Venice in May. I’m advising clients to postpone and I’m trying to support them through that. I also signed up with a firm in California trying to do similar work pro bono. 

I just can’t make money for this kind of work– it’s not right. I don’t want to take from other people. I do what I do because I love what I do. Hopefully, I can just ride it out. I’m very fortunate in what I have and I know there are lot of people who aren’t. I don’t want to take from people who desperately need it.  When I go to the store, I only buy what we need. I just went to grocery store and was lucky that they had toilet paper–I did take two this time to give them to an elderly lady I shop for. 

Basically, I take what we need, but not at expense of others. It isn’t just us in this world. We are getting through by not just looking after ourselves and our family but whomever else we can help because we are all in it together. This affects everyone. I’m hearing that people are doing things like sharing groceries that have run out at the store, sharing supplies with neighbors. I hope that what will come out of this moving forward from this time is that we are coming out of “it’s mine” moving to “it’s ours.” I feel like I have to believe there is a reason for all of this and maybe that’s what the reason is.  

Sometimes I get upset. There are days when I feel bad. But I’ve learned if I don’t admit I feel that way, then it will only get worse. It’s ok to say “I’m having a hard time right now.” We keep thinking about those people who are isolated and don’t have other people in this crisis. We all have to take care of each other and do what we can to help others, but to do that you have to take care of yourself first. It’s like what they say about oxygen masks on airplanes: You have to put on your own mask first to be able to help others on the journey. 

It’s ok to say

“I’m having a hard time right now.”

To read more of the museums long lens oral histories please visit the Westport In Focus page.