Puzzling for PMs

Production management is a big puzzle. What are calendars but intricate jigsaws of time, venues, and events, people and resources? Beginning with the broad strokes, the macro edges of a season, building a shape to contain, in our case, twenty shows, and then working in down to the detailed microcosm of who will be on a crew to support the physical needs of each of the individual productions. As I begin, each year seems jumbled and chaotic, unachievable, until I ponder specifically, painstakingly about how it all fits together. What worked the last time? What didn’t? Where do we need to make accommodations for specific dates within the calendar?

I should have known when I was ten, sitting at the folding card table on my grandparents’ plush Persian carpet, sweeping my gaze over the 1000-not-yet-interlocking pieces of that year’s Christmas puzzle, that I would end up a production manager.  There, with my mother’s father, the architect turned bridge-maker, we sat in companionable silence, for hours at a time, hands darting with quicksilver recognition of pattern and color, brushstroke and tone. Typically we puzzled over paintings. I remember well the vexation of Rembrandt’s “The Man with the Golden Helmet.” 1200px-Rembrandt_(circle)_-_The_Man_with_the_Golden_Helmet_-_Google_Art_Project That was a challenge. Sure, the helmet was easy, the sheen on his right shoulder, but the miasma of the dark field around him was unnerving when we started. And yet, in spite of the seemingly impossible challenge, we soldiered on, until the full image lay flat and complete. Sometimes a piece would go missing, lost in the intricate patterns of the carpet beneath our feet. And like the aha moment of my later puzzling as a PM, we would find the piece that brought that particular section to a satisfying whole.

This early exposure to puzzles may be the reason I took up the study of art history in college, finding pleasure in examining the brushstrokes of various painters, languishing in the details of influence and exposure of artists to one another and the formation of schools of painting, or the iconoclasts who broke away in their painting practices. I discovered the elegance of Georgia O’Keeffe, her stout American grace, her standing as a female artist in a man’s world. I relished her heady romance with Alfred Stieglitz, thirty years her senior.

I see you taking this in and assessing how these pieces fit in my life.

The thing about puzzles is that sometimes what you are looking at isn’t really what you are seeing. In your eagerness to find the piece that slides in snugly but not with force, your brain can convince you that what you are looking for is something green when in actuality, it is part green, part yellow.

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Several years ago I went through a phase of puzzling 17th Century floral paintings…

Honing that expectation to the reality requires a stillness and mindfulness to see the edges of color, the subtleties of tiny lettering, in the case of this year’s puzzle challenge, the subtleties of dozens of different fonts of lettering.

As an adult, I rarely have the time and, in our downtown aerie, the space to have a puzzle out on a table.  Our table is the dining room table, which typically functions as the breakfast, lunch, and dinner venue. During the holidays, it sports a colorful green cloth with a festive Guatemalan runner down the center, and whatever I’ve thrown together as the centerpiece. This year, two (now desiccating) red roses, some Queen Anne’s lace, a drooping white hydrangea, a spray of evergreen, two perky carnations (death flowers to the Italians) and a festively jeweled red tennis ball on a stick that came with the discount flower concoction I bought at Ralph’s after eschewing the much more attractive centerpiece of pink tulips and evergreens because of the price. That reminds me it’s time to toss my confection.

The convergence of time (a week off between Christmas and New Year’s) and venue availability (a last-minute cancellation of plans for my Dad and his wife to visit) opened half of our table venue to puzzling, providing the pleasure of an extra-curricular puzzling respite, a break from the puzzling as PM that I get paid to do.

And so, I pulled out the puzzle that my dear friend Jennifer had given me for my birthday two years ago. It has sat on my desk at home awaiting some confluence of events as described above, and eagerly, on the 23rd of December, I opened the box and spread out the pieces.

An Antique World Map, on display at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA.

…originally designed as a frontispiece to Henricus Hondius’s 1630 revision of the long-lived Mercator/Hondius atlas, a work then being challenged by rival map publishers.

Where to begin? Initially confounding, and only when approached methodically, patiently, the edges and corners came together in a few hours, then the images of the portraits of Julius Caesar, and cartographers Claudius Ptolemy, Gerard Mercator and Jodocus Hondius, Sr. followed. What seemed impossible to imagine ever completing, the dual circles of alternating colors around the two lobes of the map, came together on day two. The colorful outlines of South America, Africa, Europe and Asia, clued together by the internal tiny names. The vast, uncharted territories of Canada and the Northwestern United States.

And yes, lest I seem callous, I was devastated by the change in plans and not getting to spend the Christmas week with my Dad and his wife. Sometimes plans are fickle, and unchartered. Happens all the time for us PMs, us humans, us explorers. As disorienting as it was to have our Christmas plans disrupted, we made the best of what we were given. And that, my friends, is the only solution to that and any puzzle.

“EMC gets list of forbidden words: Hematuria, Christmas Cards, Schedule A Deductions”

It’s funny sometimes the synchronicity in the world. I don’t know how or why these things seem to happen, but soon after the CDC received the list of seven forbidden words for future budget documents, I, too, received a list of forbidden words and phrases for future planning purposes.

The CDC’s forbidden terms are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

 December 15 at 6:53 PM

Our list came from God, Jimmie’s urologist and our tax man. The fact that our list’s verbage is verboten is welcome news in our household, and ironically, included some of the same words from the CDC’s list. “Vulnerable” and “entitlement” were also on our list and due to the duplication, leads us to believe that vulnerability and entitlement might very well be an eighth and ninth sin.

My thinking is, (and no doubt the hard-working doctors and scientists at the CDC feel the same way) that if some great powerful bureaucrat or government agency has banned these words or feels they are no longer relevant, then they must no longer exist, right? Now there’s some evidence-based relief!

Also on our list are “hematuria,” “agonist”, “hormones” (because after what we’ve both been through there aren’t any “hormones” left anywhere in the vicinity), “Christmas cards” are disallowed, though a dispensation has been made for reciprocating Xmas greetings to those well-meaning family and friends who have kept the light of Christmas burning by sending photos of themselves with their beautiful children.

Additional taboo topics are “Schedule A deductions;” when the GOP has it’s way, early next week, professional actors like Jimmie will no longer be able to deduct entertainment, union dues, state taxes withheld and all other business expenses they are taking so we can all just tear up that Schedule A paper. Talk about progress! And did you hear? We may soon be able to file our taxes on a post card!

The Post reported that, according to a source, policy analysts were given some phrases to use instead of the prohibited words, such as instead of saying “science-based” or “evidence-based” using the phrase, “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.”

ABC News Reporters Morgan Winsor and Dan Childs Dec. 16, 2017 2:10PM

This approach certainly works for me. I definitely would not wish hematuria on anyone and as the urologist said the other day, “this hormone shot is the only treatment you’re getting, so you have to put up with it no matter how uncomfortable you are.” Maybe it’s time to add “hot flash” to the list. It’s sort of like a negative Christmas list.

As far as community wishes go, we were informed by our tax accountant that the Schedule A deductions will go away as of Spring 2019. But he also wrote:

No state is required to conform to the proposed new tax law. For our clients, primarily in California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Massachusetts, we strongly suggest writing or calling your state assembly representatives to encourage filing independent of the Internal Revenue Service, including allowing state and local taxes, employee business expenses, total property taxes and total mortgage interest deductions. Here’s how to contact your representative. Call 844-899-9913. Tell them your zip code and you’ll get connected with your representative. Also, contact your union and have them lobby on your behalf.

Oh, and feel free to include in your letter that “EMC bases her recommendations on science in consideration of community standards and wishes.”