Dear Friend of Frank,
On Sunday I put on a necktie. It felt great.
Pre-covid, I didn't particularly enjoy suiting up. Mostly I didn't have to; I was in business for myself from my late 30s on so I could come to work dressed however I pleased. Then we sold our company in 2005 and I kinda-sorta retired. Then covid hit. Whatever shred of reason existed to suit up, vanished. The sweats came out. You know the rest.
But last Sunday was a memorial for my fellow writer Phil Harvey, who died last month. His death was utterly unexpected and sent shock waves through our writers' group. We writers have been together 20-25 years; Phil and I have been group members the entire time.
I could have participated via Zoom but that would turn it into a spectator event. Not what I had in mind. Phil's stories sometimes soared, especially when writing about the outdoors, which he did lyrically. His terse, penetrating critique helped make me a better writer. Despite covid, despite omicron, I wanted to honor Phil's memory with my presence. I wanted to put on a tie.
The event was held at the Cato Institute in downtown Washington DC. It was an uber-typical Washington event -- classy hors d'oeuvres, top-shelf liquor, waiters in livery. I was enjoying all this while feeling a disconnect. We were here to honor a dead guy, after all, not celebrate some policy victory.
Why Cato, the libertarian think-tank? Phil was a Cato supporter and staunch libertarian. Libertarians tend to be lumped with conservatives but that's not exactly right. Their core belief is in personal freedom: Let people do whatever they please, as long as it doesn't harm others.
Acting on those beliefs, Phil created Adam & Eve, a mail-order sexual-aids business that empowers people to live whatever sex lives they wish in the privacy of their homes.
Adam & Eve made Phil rich. Then, libertarian that he was, he spent much of that fortune spreading birth control and family planning in the Third World. Women, especially impoverished women, should be the ones who decide whether or not to become mothers, Phil believed; and he should be the one to help them do so.
Adam & Eve also got Phil into a huge pile of trouble. The Reagan Administration, charging obscenity, came down on Adam & Eve with both feet. Phil didn't take it lying down. Unlike most people, he had the will -- and the resources -- to fight back, especially when the matter in question was the First Amendment right of free speech. Phil and his lawyers went to the Supreme Court and won against a super-powerful opponent. The story is set forth in his book The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve.
I'd known little of this impressive back-story though. Phil was a modest guy.
Four of my writing buddies also attended. Aside from paying respects to Harriet Lesser, Phil's widow and an artist of reputation, we writers stuck together. I wasn't there to mingle. I love these writer people. They've become family. Losing Phil was like losing a cousin.
As mentioned, our group has been together going on 25 years. That's remarkable until you consider how much we get from participating. We get the truth. This group is that rare place where we can count on it.
We meet to critique -- read one another's work, offer constructive comments, try to help each other deal with the strengths and flaws. You have to be careful how you do that. Truth hurts, they say, and critique can hurt bad -- real bad. You're picking apart someone's baby, y'know? In a successful critique group, participants learn how to speak truth so it helps, not harms.
(Doesn't always work. Snark can emerge. I've been snarky myself, I'm ashamed to admit. But snark is the dark side of support. It's what comes out when you try to shower pearls and the other guy thinks you're throwing rocks.)
But I'm digressing. This is about covid and how it has affected my life, our lives. It's about what used to be little things -- neckties, suiting up, being among people dear to you and strangers in nice clothes rather than staring at a screen. About washing down a tasty tartlet with a fine Bordeaux. About spottng a great free parking space in downtown Washington, then walking two blocks in freezing cold to a haven of warmth and light, manners and grace, reverence for principle (albeit principle to which one doesn't necessarily subscribe) ... while offering tribute to a guy, Phil Harvey, who deserved it.
Frank S Joseph Author
P.S. More covid thoughts to come. It's time, methinks. I invite you to share yours too. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
P.P.S. Radio silence from TouchPoint Press. I'm not worried. They have other authors in the queue. When I next hear from them, the subject probably will be covers. Stand by.