For a lot of us, there’s a balancing act going on right now – feelings of gratitude, on the one hand, and loss on the other.

There’s a loneliness for casual interactions with the people you like at the grocery store and elsewhere (hello, Regina, Willie Mae, and K.O. at Green Hills Kroger, I miss you!). There’s a loneliness for dinner and outings with friends and family. Each of us is living with specific, particular flavors of loneliness, as well as some daily aggravations.

One of my friends joined a firm in New York City in January – she’s the faith and work person for their global operations. Oh heavens – the timing. We were texting today…

“So I was in NY the week things went down hill fast. Lucky not to have it.”

Yes you are!

She & her husband are currently hosting three young adults also known as their children…

“Girls are mourning loss of their senior springs. Son mad. All fighting over WiFi bandwidth for our various workloads. Yet I talk to NYC every morning for work and realize what unbelievable luxury my experience is comparatively. Hard to both accept the real losses (like prom) and realize how much bigger others are….”

Yes, that’s it. Losses, and gratitude. Even some survivor guilt in the mix.

Today, portrait artist and committed extrovert Shane Neal stops in at Bacon to talk about the social interactions he misses – and what gets him through.

Hi Shane! I’m so glad to spend some time with you at Bacon today!

How has your life as a portrait artist changed? 

Two reasons I became a portrait artist: I love to paint and draw, and I love people – that means regular interaction with the people I am painting which, in turn, inspires me and aids my creativity. Face-to-face time has stopped in this period of social distancing. I have postponed all my client sittings both in the studio and at their locations through the end of April at this point. All my travel has also been postponed into May.

Photos of Shane in the studio taken this week by daughter Mattie Ree

What is your state of mind?

I am working hard to stay optimistic! But, it’s all so terribly distracting. I’m used to juggling a lot as most of us are, but throw in a pandemic and boy we have a brand new set of concerns. It’s a lot of hard work to try and keep your focus.

What’s the biggest hardship? What do you miss most?

I think not being able to move about freely and missing the close interaction with friends and extended family.

What are you secretly or not so secretly enjoying?

Secretly? My kids’ month old boxes of Valentine chocolates they hardy touched.

Not so secretly? My garden. I realized recently how little I’d personally been able to enjoy time there. I have found myself doing a bit of work in it throughout the week between the Nashville rains. It seems I had stopped really “seeing” it lately. I guess I realized I had forgotten to stop and smell the flowers.

What’s your best coping strategy for Life in the Time of Corona so far?

I work hard every day to keep a regular routine. Having been self employed for 30 years and working from home for much of that time, I have learned that you have to stay disciplined and focused when working from home. As an old friend once told me you must be a “self starter.” So, I am still dressing for work despite the lack of visitors or employees, and I am keeping regular hours in the studio. I am making lists and work on checking things off throughout the week. I have stopped watching regular briefings on the virus during the day and instead am getting an update in the morning.

Favorite comfort food/beverage?
I love cereal – any kind of cereal – and I am afraid my sweet ice tea cravings have hit all time highs!

Have you left the house since “Shelter in Place” went into effect? What would you leave it for?

I have left the house a few times for groceries, take out and to drop off a couple of things for friends. Desperately needed some exercise, I played golf with a few friends last Saturday. We walked, stayed several feet away from each other, didn’t touch the flag stick, and there isn’t a rake for the sand traps in sight. I do miss the “help yourself” peanut butter and crackers at the 9 1/2 hole, which I suspect will be a thing of the past.

Favorite delivery service?


What essential supply are you stocked up on? What do you wish you had more of?

Interestingly, I was painting a portrait of Senator Arlen Specter about 15 years ago. During my time working with him, he was chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee and held hearings on the possibility of a flu pandemic and necessary funding for such an emergency. As part of my research on the senator, I watched many Senate floor speeches he made on the subject of a major outbreak nationally and internationally. It all frightened me a bit! During our sittings in my studio and at his home in Pennsylvania, we spoke about the possibilities of such a disaster. He suggested I go online and print out a list of “emergency” supplies that would aid me during a nationwide pandemic or something like another 911. I did! I bought three big red duffle bags from Target to hold the supplies and dedicated a shelf in the basement for a few more essential items. Every year between Christmas and the new year, I remove the bags and replace outdated supplies, all meant to sustain us a few days. Having done that, what did I find I needed more of? Well, about everything. I hadn’t prepared for weeks, of course. I have added to my stock of peanut butter, frozen foods, paper towels, and toilet paper.

Have you watched any great TV shows or movies in the last year or so that you would recommend? What are you watching now?

I never get to see a lot of television, but lately I have enjoyed it with my daughters. My girls love old Seinfeld episodes so we’ve seen a bunch of those at night. We also enjoy random Youtube suggestions and watch some short and long clips on a variety of subjects.

What have you read in the last year or so that you would recommend? What are you reading now?

Right now I am reading the recent Edmund Morris book on Thomas Edison called “Edison,” and as a history and biography lover, I am enjoying it. It’s a fitting lesson in boundless creativity and determination!

I recently read an oldie, “The Summing Up” by Somerset Maugham. It had long been a favorite of my friend and mentor Everett Raymond Kinstler (in fact Maugham was his favorite author) and I had long wanted to read it. I liked it fine, but not as much as Mr. Kinstler!

(Shane, May I borrow your copy of The Summing Up? Maugham’s Of Human Bondage is one of my favorite works of all time. Or at least it was. I haven’t read it in a while… hmmm…)

What is your advice for friends trying to stay healthy – and stay sane – in this trying time?

I’ve got the hand washing down and, despite being a hugger, I am managing the distancing pretty well–right now. Of course, as an extrovert, I’m feeling particularly deprived! That said, I am trying to realize we are doing what we can and despite the “house arrest,” and I am staying busy as a healthy way of coping. It distracts me from all the sadness and frustration. I am working in the studio, painting every day, and feeling more productive having a number of other things on hold that often limit my time at my easels. I am writing friends both emails and handwritten letters and calling family. The garage and basement organizing is going well, and I am making my bed every day no matter what! Importantly, I am leaning on my faith and know that I have to turn to God for comfort and strength in all of this. I reread Isaiah 40:31 often, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Thanks for the interview and the encouragement, Shane… sending all warmest wishes to you and yours. Xoxo

Monopoly in the Time of Corona

Mr. Beasley the pug competing with Shane for his reading nook