Four Funerals and a Birthday

September 24th, 2009

I was asked tonight by a friend the simple, “How’s it going?”

I’m generally in a positive mood and responded: “Times are still tough, but I remain optimistic about the future of publishing.”

It’s later now and I got to thinking:

There are still more deaths than births in the publishing business. And that can be depressing.

Let me explain.

Most days I hear from friends and colleagues that business is rotten. Either their income has shrunk to where it can only be found under a microscope, or they’ve been layed-off, or they’re about to be bought out, or…

I do not often hear from my  friends and collegues that business has suddenly turned north, and couldn’t be better.

I see in the financial pages much more gloom (with a smattering of what I call “false hope.”). Nothing to cheer me up there.

Tonight I got to thinking that in the world of life and death that we humans inhabit we’ve got ceremonies, finely-honed over the years, to celebrate birth and to help us all ease through the grief of death.

At the same time, I’ve always argued that businesses are just surrogates for families. Ever since Peter Drucker and his pals there’s been a tremendous effort to make it seem that businesses are merely scientific enterprises. I argue that they’re just dysfunctional families, writ large.

Therefore when a business fails there should be a “business funeral,” where we join together and mourn. When a dear friend is laid off after a 22-year career, there should be a similar ritual. But we have no established ceremonies for these things, and are each left to mourn singly and silently.

But likewise should there not be a celebration ritual upon the birth of a new business? OK, it’s called the “press event.” But it always lacks the structure and ceremony of a good old-fashioned religious ceremony.

I was imagining this evening the moment when my putative business wife caught me on my cell to announce that she’d had twins. “I’m going to name the first one ‘FaceBook,” she said. “And the other, gosh I don’t know why, I’m naming Twitter.”

I rushed to the hospital and looked down upon their faces, listening to their early twitters, and thought that somehow we’d given birth to kids with birth defects. Yet here they are, a few years later, and they’re the most popular kids in the world. Where can I celebrate??

We’ve been through some tough times and have no fine outlets to express either pain or joy. We must simply endure, and when times improve, celebrate in the old-fashioned ways we’ve always enjoyed.