Inspiration, Challenges, and Advice From Penguin Random House U.S.
“Find space between work and life even if your office is also the dinner table.”
Interviews with Patrick Nolan, Vice President, Penguin Books & Associate Publisher, Editor-in-Chief, Penguin; Nicole Counts, Senior Editor, One World; Tina Mullen, Distribution Center, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Nicole: I spent most of the first week of quarantine writing letters and cards to dozens of authors. I am always in constant contact with many of my authors—but recently, I have strengthened and gained inspiration, as well as received so much care, from many of One World’s authors. One World launched Ideas X Action, a new virtual event series, that has re-invigorated my dedication to the imprint’s mission—to open our imaginations, challenge the status quo, subvert dominant narratives, and tell the truth—and to our readers. Besides my OW fam, I am involved in my apartment building’s email group, my neighborhood in Brooklyn’s mutual aid group, and a few other wellness organizations that trade skillsets to help one another. The reason we exist, and the reason we do the work we do, is more apparent than ever before—for each other, and that has been (unsurprisingly!) the most inspiring part of all this.
Tina: I’m grateful that we’re still able to work, and I’m ecstatic that I can help get our books to people that really need them.
Patrick: It’s no surprise but it’s deeply inspiring to see the team support each other whether it’s reassuring a colleague that it’s okay that a toddler is interrupting a WebEx meeting, or supporting a decision to find further cost savings to get us through this moment. All through the ranks of leadership, there is a message that we can do this without pretending that it’s not hard. Our divisional head, Allison Dobson, has kept a level head during this time—always putting our safety first and giving us the support to get the job done. Some of our politicians could take a lesson from her leadership.
Patrick: Starting up again every Monday—it feels a bit like Ground Hog Day in the beginning, but once I get connected and get to work and start interacting with the team, that feeling slips away and it’s essentially business as the new normal.
Nicole: Each day is so different, it sometimes feels like an entire valley separates the mountainous days. There is much to do—working, cooking, cleaning, taking care of others and ourselves, and at the same time so little to do while we are stuck in the same (small) space. But, I think this is good practice for what life should be more like: letting ourselves feel our emotions (fear, joy, anxiety, exhaustion, excitement, etc.), and letting those emotions breathe in order to move through the day— working smart, focused hours and taking full, restorative breaks away from our work spaces and mindsets; moving slowly, deliberately.
Tina: I drive a forklift every day—one person, doing my job, as part of the Crawfordsville team. We’re not passing one another like we normally do. We’re staying at least six feet apart at all times. We’re never on top of each other. Everybody has different break times now. Everything is cleaned, over and over. So we are safe. Getting an extra 40 hours for all that we’ve been going through is really appreciated. Penguin Random House is a very good company to work for.
Patrick: Find space between work and life even if your office is also the dinner table—create rituals of separation, whether it’s a yoga class or a cocktail at the end of the day (or both!)
My husband and I are working our way through David Lebovitz’s DRINKING FRENCH as our replacement to the evening commute.
Nicole: I try my best to take it one hour at a time. I use H.A.L.T. a lot (am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired?) as a way to check-in, remind myself to take a walk, eat lunch, call a friend, stretch, lay still for twenty minutes. Now that we have been working from home for several weeks, I am more protective over my calendar. I schedule reading hours, I block off time for reaching out and checking in with authors, I spend dedicated time on emails and close out email when I need to write, read, and brainstorm.
Tina: Just try to put everything to the side and concentrate on your job and do the best you can as we all get through this together.
Patrick: I’m looking forward to reading Philip Roth’s the PLOT AGAINST AMERICA before tuning into the new HBO series. Next month, I’m publishing Ben Taylor’s memoir of his friendship with Philip Roth (HERE WE ARE) so I’ve had Roth on my mind for some time.
Nicole: I’m reading a lot of poetry—Tracy K. Smith, Sharon Olds. I’ve started LITTLE EYES by Samantha Schweblin, and have recently re-read the first part/story in LATITUDES OF LONGING by Shubhangi Swarup, because it takes place in the jungle and I wanted to feel the outdoors, to place myself somewhere so lush, wet, vibrant—a book we’re proud to be publishing in just two weeks!
Here is a short line that left me feeling overwhelmingly full: “Girija Prasad also takes Chanda Devi for a walk along the jungle path locally known as the Path of Eternal Rain, one where the constant sound of raindrops can send your heart racing like the monsoon winds. ‘Tell me this is an illusion too,’ says Chanda Devi. ‘Tell me that the movement of lands and continents leaves behind memories of raindrops, even when the rains themselves have moved on.’”