Synchronicity, Part 1

Beginnings, Life in General

Synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Since there’s not much activity going on in Boquete these days, I’ll take this opportunity to reflect on past events in my life. There have been at least two major cases of synchronicity that I can recall. There are probably more, but these two series of events stand out as being major turning points.

The first is when I started my desktop publishing business in 1988. This was just after “personal computers” became popular. I had been working for my friend Bill Eudy in his commercial appraisal business for about four years, where I learned a lot about word processing and graphic skills (typing the content, drawing floor plans, labeling photos, producing the finished report, etc.).

My husband at the time drew a cartoon for a woman who was the editor of a health-related section of the Oklahoma Gazette newspaper. She broke away and started her own newspaper called The Public Medical News, and needed someone to set the type for the paper. Kinko’s (now FedEx Office) had recently installed some of the first Macintosh computers in their stores, which were available to rent to customers.

The newspaper owner struck a deal with Kinko’s to trade advertising space for computer time, and with my skills in word processing, I went to work creating columns of text for the new publication on their little Macs – sometimes for eight hours a day. I was there so much that the employees threatened to give me a name tag and work apron! Kinko’s printed out my columns of text and the headlines, and the owner of the paper, a friend of hers, and I pasted up the newspaper manually every two weeks.

After a couple of months of this, I decided I needed to buy a computer and start doing this at home. So the newspaper owner wrote a letter stating she would use me for a certain dollar amount of work each month, and I took this letter to several banks to request a loan for the equipment. On the strength of her letter, a bank loaned me $15,000, and I was in business! I named my business Precision Typesetting and bought a Macintosh computer, scanner, printer, and several software applications (Office, Pagemaker, Illustrator, Photoshop), and still had a bit of money left over for operating expenses.

Customer referral card from Precision Typesetting.

A bedroom in my house was converted to an office (for me) and art studio (for my husband). I knew nothing about how all that software worked, and there were no classes available at that time to teach the applications, so I just jumped in and learned the software (and journalism practices) on my own. I typed the articles, created the ads, and laid out the paper electronically, printing each page on three overlapping sheets of legal-size paper. I’m proud to say that we never missed a deadline, even during that transition period! The newspaper owner recommended me to those she sold advertising to, and they also became my customers.

After nine months of working from home, I decided to rent an office. My first office was on the ground floor of a six-story building near my house, so I had a very short commute. One day, a guy wandered into my office. He had a friend whose office was upstairs, and when he saw my sign on the door, he was curious as to what I did. I showed him some samples of my work, and he said he might have some work for me. He wanted me to print labels for his PC users group, to put on the diskettes they made each month. I found this hilarious – “You want me, on my Mac, to make labels for your PC users group?” His reply was, “I believe in Macs!” We became friends in that instant, and kept in touch.

A couple of years later, that friendship showed itself to be very valuable. This guy worked for Seagate (computer hard drive manufacturer), and one of his good friends there was the head of the Publications department. Seagate had just inherited a Macintosh computer from their office in Minneapolis, and they wanted their graphic artist to learn how to use it. Also, it was the only Macintosh in an office full of PCs, so no one was familiar with the computer itself.

So my friend recommended me to come in and teach him. Their graphic artist was in his 60s, and was a brilliant pen & ink artist who created isometric drawings of hard drives for inclusion in their product manuals – but he knew nothing about computers (and at that point in his career, I imagine he had little motivation to do so). After about three lessons, he told me that he had a relapse of leukemia and could no longer work.

They asked me if I’d be interested in the position, and asked me if I could create an isometric drawing. My reply was, “I don’t know – I’ve never tried.” So I ran to a used bookstore and found a technical drawing book that defined what an isometric drawing was, then went home and drew my little one-piece Mac and a portable CD player. I took those drawings to the manager, who sent them to his boss in California, and they had to admit that I could indeed do the work.

For the first couple of months, I worked half a day at Seagate and half a day at my own business. Then I notified most of my customers that I would no longer be able to work for them, and kept a handful of my best customers after I went to work full-time at Seagate. I worked there for almost 10 years, until they had a massive layoff. It was the best job I ever had, and I enjoyed it very much.

So here’s where the synchronicity came into play:

  • If I hadn’t worked for my friend Bill, I wouldn’t have had the graphic arts skills that I had
  • If my husband hadn’t drawn a cartoon for the Gazette, I wouldn’t have met the woman who started her own newspaper
  • If Kinko’s hadn’t had their Macs available to rent, I wouldn’t have had the hardware to work for her
  • If she hadn’t written the letter of recommendation, I wouldn’t have gotten a loan to start my own business
  • If I hadn’t moved my work to an office in a commercial building, I wouldn’t have met the guy who worked for Seagate
  • If I hadn’t met that guy, he wouldn’t have introduced me to his friend (and my future boss) to teach their graphic artist
  • If the graphic artist hadn’t fallen ill, I wouldn’t have been offered the job that provided me a good living for almost 10 years

If even one of those steps had been omitted along the line, my life would have undoubtedly turned out quite different than it did. When I started working for Bill, I had few marketable skills. By the time I left, I was proficient in an area that was just beginning to come into its own. There were few companies that provided desktop publishing services to small businesses that couldn’t afford the big advertising agencies. I did a lot of work for companies who were just getting started and needed logos and stationery to make them look professional. I derived great satisfaction from helping the “little guy” look legit instead of rag-tag.

I recognize that I have a certain intelligence level and creative talent, but going from no viable job experience to working for a large multi-national company and making good money in the space of a few years was a remarkable journey, and one that I still marvel at today.

So that’s the first major episode where synchronicity played a part. The second series of events helped bring me to Panama….

6 comments

Comfy in Quarantine

Daily life, Health

Since we’re still under lockdown here in Panama, there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest to write about. As of today, there are 9449 cases of the virus in Panama, with 269 deaths. We seem to be holding our own in controlling the spread of the virus – at least it doesn’t seem to be running rampant, which is a good thing.

I’m doing great – my house is comfortable, the neighbors are neighborly, and I have a friend who brings me groceries. About the only time I leave the house is to pick up the veggies I order online – I don’t even have to get out of the car. I go to the centrally located place where the vendor is, they ask my name and go get my bag of veggies. I give them the money, they put the veggies in my car, and I’m on my way in about a minute.

As long as I have electricity and internet, my life goes on pretty much as usual. The internet was out for the entire day on Wednesday, but that was very unusual. I think someone accidentally cut a major line, and it was out in the entire area. Since I couldn’t work or watch TV that day, instead I read a book and played games on my tablet to pass the time. Sometimes you just have to roll with it and have patience!

The biggest change here is that they lifted the “dry law” this week (at least for the time being). People have been complaining loud and long on Facebook about the inability to buy liquor and wine, which has been the rule since mid-March. So I’m hoping things will settle down, now that people can get their drink on. But if people can’t manage to act responsibly, they can reimpose the dry law at any time, and then it’ll be back to whining as usual.

They are also beginning to open up the economy as of this week, in cautious stages. A few types of businesses are now allowed to be open, and additional sections of the economy will follow, unless they see a spike in infections. Then I suppose they will review and revise, if necessary. No airline travel from Panama (except a handful of humanitarian flights) will be allowed until at least June 22, and there is no word as to when flights will be allowed to arrive in Panama. So the people who are here and want to leave, or those in the US and other places around the globe who want to get back to their homes in Panama, will have to wait awhile longer.

Although outside activities have been put on hold, I did get to see some of my “clay buddies” recently, because we had a virtual mini-retreat (since the real one was cancelled) and a polymer clay guild meeting via Zoom. It was a lot of fun to see people I hadn’t seen for two years now (wow – has it really been that long???). Looks like we’ll have our next meeting online also.

People are still making great virus song parodies. This is one of my new favorites – this family is very talented, and have quite a few great videos.

I hope everyone is staying safe and hanging in there! This will be over at some point, although we may very well have a “new normal” when it passes. But whatever happens, life will go on and it will be OK!

5 comments

Life in the Age of Corona

Boquete, Community, Health

The virus statistics for Panama on March 28 stand at 901 cases, with 17 deaths reported. New cases have been added for the past 4-5 days at the rate of about 110 per day. This rapid increase in the past week is a bit alarming, especially since a handful of cases aren’t far from Boquete, but this seems to follow the global pattern – a rapid increase of cases, then (hopefully) a leveling off and decline of new instances.

Panama is doing many things right regarding their attempts to limit the spread of the virus – airports are closed, bus service suspended, residents are under quarantine except for a two-hour window per day, and that is only for necessities like buying food and medicine. IDs are being closely checked to make sure people are going out only at their allotted time. Numerous people have been arrested, and companies have been fined, for ignoring the rules.

The streets are eerily empty, compared to the usual hustle and bustle downtown. Below is a recent photo someone posted on Facebook of Boquete’s main street. Normally, there would be cars parked on both sides of the street, vendors selling fruits and vegetables from the backs of their trucks, and people filling the sidewalks, going about their daily business. Not today.

Main street in downtown Boquete, a virtual ghost town these days.
Cleaning crews were thoroughly scrubbing and disinfecting the bus stops, sidewalks, and even the streets a couple of days ago.

So while I’m hunkering down at home and staying safe, I’ve been enjoying some of the very creative efforts of people who are making well-done song parodies online. These are some of my favorites. This “Coronavirus Rhapsody” is phenomenal, and the couple singing “Homebound” is adorable! Gotta love the “Quarantinaville” homage to Jimmy Buffett, too!

Although very different, life under quarantine is not nearly as difficult as the alternative – this illness is no joke, and being in a higher risk demographic, I’m not about to tempt fate. With patience and calmness, we all need to be smart about our health and remember these four little words, “This, too, shall pass…”

5 comments

Coronapocalypse

Community, Health

Since the entire world is on virtual lockdown due to the corona virus, I thought I’d send an update on how I’m faring here in Boquete, Panama. As of March 22, there have been 245 confirmed cases of the virus, with three deaths. All but one of the cases (and all of the deaths) have been located in and around Panama City, where approximately half of Panama’s population lives. I live in the western part of Panama, about a six hour drive from Panama City. There has been only one case in my portion of the country, in a city at least an hour’s drive from where I live.

Panama has been proactive to reduce the spread of the virus. A week ago, all incoming flights from Europe and Asia were cancelled, and as of tonight, ALL flights, both incoming and outgoing, are cancelled. People are told to stay home unless necessary to buy groceries or medicines, and non-essential businesses are closed. Grocery stores, pharmacies, and hospitals are open, but precautions are taken to limit the number of people in the facilities and ensure a safe distance is maintained. A curfew has been imposed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and is being enforced by the police. Only residents of Boquete are (theoretically) allowed past the checkpoint, and must show proof of residence. I’ve heard from several people that this is NOT being enforced – at least not consistently.

I bought groceries a few days ago. There was a health official at the door, keeping track of how many people entered and left the store. The shelves were full, and the handful of shoppers I saw were not buying an excessive amount of goods – no “panic buying” in evidence here.

Restaurants are allowed to continue operations, with only carry-out and home delivery allowed. Before the virus, only a couple of restaurants offered home delivery, but that has become a necessary adjustment to their business model.

One peculiar rule has puzzled me a bit, though – all sales and consumption of liquor has been prohibited until April 7. Apparently THIS is what has triggered the only cases of panic buying that I’ve heard of here. In the hours before the cut-off of sales, people were rushing to the stores to buy cart-loads of beer, wine, and spirits to stock up for the duration of the quarantine. No gatherings of people are allowed, so maybe that rule was implemented to discourage partying, and perhaps because when people are drunk, they tend to make poor decisions regarding safety.

One of my friends wasn’t about to let the “no gatherings” rule stop him from providing some much-needed entertainment and boredom relief! He performs at various venues around town, and since that’s not possible at the moment, he was thoughtful and generous enough to set up a live video in his living room to allow us to join him on Facebook for a socially-distant but thoroughly enjoyable two-hour concert. Here’s a link to the replay. Enjoy!

As for me, daily life hasn’t changed drastically. I stay home quite a bit anyway, so home quarantine isn’t a big deal for me. I already work from home, so that’s exactly the same. I watch TV, read, or play computer games – again, fairly normal activities. The part that has changed is that I had to cancel a trip I was planning to take in a couple of weeks to OKC for my polymer clay retreat, and to catch up with friends there. That was disappointing! Other “fun stuff” here in Boquete has also been cancelled or postponed – our weekly drum circle, SausageFest (a contest among local chefs to see who makes the best sausage), a day trip to an orchid farm, and a production of Noel Coward’s “Blythe Spirit” play.

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the lovely weather, the green mountains, and the sweet songs of the birds. This little bird likes to perch outside my bathroom window and sing his little heart out each morning.

Life will be eventually go back to normal (perhaps a “new normal”) after this crisis has passed. Maybe this crisis will wake us up to a new way of thinking. One can only hope. And speaking of hope, the video below was sent to me by a friend, and it’s the most sane and positive viewpoint I’ve heard on this event.

Stay safe, remain calm, and obey the safety guidelines, and we’ll all get through this together…

UPDATE 3/24/20: As of today, there are now 443 virus cases and eight deaths, including a 13-year-old child. There is now at least one confirmed case in Boquete. The entirety of Panama will be on 24-hour in-home quarantine, as of 5:00 a.m. tomorrow. We are only permitted to be out of our homes for two hours to buy groceries or medicines, with the allowed times based on the last digit of our cedula (government ID) or passport number. Seniors over 60 are allowed to shop from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., regardless of their ID number. Hopefully this tighter regulation, and rigorous enforcement of it, will result in a shorter time frame and fewer people affected. As they say, flatten the curve!

8 comments

Howling at the Moon

Friends

I go to a weekly event called a “drum circle” – which, as you might imagine, is a group of people who sit in a circle and make music with drums and other percussion instruments such as tambourines, gourd rattles, etc. One of the guys has assembled a set of plastic jugs and tin cans into sort of a drum set (quite effective!), and one lady even beats on a metal frying pan!

We meet on Wednesday evenings from 4 to 5, and on the Sunday evening nearest the full moon, we have dinner, then drum for a couple of hours afterwards. Often, we can’t actually see the moon because of cloud cover, but last night it was in full view, and it was spectacular!

Full moon through the trees at drum circle.

Drum circle is always fun, but when we caught a glimpse of the moon, we all had to howl in solidarity with the sight! Here’s a taste of what goes on…

This also is the fourth anniversary of the drumming group, so it was celebrated with a huge cake!

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