Archive for September, 2009

Letter From New York September 27, 2009

September 28, 2009

Or – as it seems to me…

Autumn has arrived; the official start date has come and gone and all around us there are definitive signs: the leaves on the trees along the creek have started to turn, fallen yellow leaves drift down the stream. The temperature has begun to drop and the mornings and evenings are cool and very crisp. Stores are filled with Halloween candy and accoutrements. Sweaters are being pulled forward in closets and it is sometimes necessary, at least here at the cottage, to have heat – the Franklin stove is in use.

Like the start date of autumn, the Emmys have come and gone, full this year of gallows humor about the state of broadcast television. The humor had a desperate edge to it, voices tinged with a soupcon of hysteria. Julia Louis Dreyfus welcomed everyone to the last official year of broadcast television and everyone in the audience who had a stake in broadcast television was afraid she was correct. And there’s no denying that the business is changing. So is everything in media. A once glamorous business seems a bit tarnished and frayed around the edges.

As for frayed around the edges, there is a bit of that in New York as a result of the arrest of several people who allegedly were planning to use beauty supplies to blow up – something. The central figure is a young Afghan named Zazi who seemingly has evolved from enthusiastic immigrant to ardent terrorist.

Apparently in his computer were found photos of New York subways. I hate to admit it but subway terrorism is something I think about. Not just since these folks were arrested… It’s been on my mind since the London bombings in 2005. I arrived there three or four days after the attacks and realized then, as I realize now, how easy it would be to bring backpack bombs onto trains. So I tend to ride subways at the front or rear of the train, not in the middle because if I were a suicide bomber I’d get on in the middle of the train where I would think I could cause the greatest damage.

These are the kinds of things I think about. As, I have discovered, do my friends and colleagues. 9/11 is distant but not so distant as not to think terrorism is a possibility. It is not a bright thought but it is a realistic one.
I also contemplate the changes in media, the work world within which I live. The velocity of change in the media world is unprecedented. In a very short time, many institutions, like newspapers, find themselves called into question. All in all, it’s just a more complicated world than it was ten years ago. On every level…

My great friend Lionel had the good grace to know Jane Campion in Australia, the country of both their origins, and so was invited to the premiere of her film BRIGHT STAR and he invited me to accompany him. It is the story of John Keats and his muse, Fannie Brawne, played out against the deep, lush English countryside which, on film, reminded me of nothing so much as my beloved Claverack – woody, windy, lush, wet, full of promise. It helped me understand why this area is called “New England.”

It also reminded me of the searching we do in our souls for the meaning of things, the meaning of the seemingly countless small things that end up being so important. It is the small things, piled upon each other, that make the important things. It was the combination of wind, rain, lush countryside and passionate love for Fannie that propelled Keats to greatness.

But what combination of small things caused Zazi to turn from being an enthusiastic American immigrant to one who seemingly wants in the deepest part of his soul to bring mass destruction upon his adopted homeland? What combination of small things has resulted in each of our lives taking the direction they have? How did we individually, as industries, as a society, move from where we were ten years ago to where we are today? In the answers to these questions, we have what’s called history.

Letter From New York Sept 18 2009

September 18, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

September 11, 2001 came into the world as one of the most achingly beautiful days that nature ever gave the New York area. Into it flew death, destruction and the end of the world as we knew it – in smoke, dust, rending of steel and glass, terror and tears much of the fabric of the world was torn. It seemed that way then and still seems so when I review the world in silence, objectively. In THE GO BETWEEN, Pinter’s line was: the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. The time before 9/11 is a foreign country, we did things differently there.

September 11, 2009 dawned as one of the dreariest days in a summer of dreary days; dark, rainy, funereal – a day befitting a somber anniversary. Water pelted the windows of my bedroom. On the radio, I listened to a woman re-live her 9/11 experience, resulting in me reliving mine. There had been a dread I felt as this anniversary approached; I did not think we would escape unscathed. I feared some terrible event happening, the weight of the possibility infused my actions, an extra burden to carry as I passed through life with a heightened sensitivity to negative possibility.

Thankfully, the day was busy, full of business, things to be done, distractions, meetings, scurrying from one end of Manhattan to another and then…it was time to go home to the cottage. As we all know now, nothing happened, no building fell, no one died, nothing…thank God.

However, a scant three days latter the NYPD conducted a raid in Queens, carting off trunk loads of evidence from an apartment there What the papers are buzzing about is that this group in Queens may be an Al Qaida cell, planning some event with hydrogen peroxide bombs.

Hydrogen peroxide? Isn’t that what Marilyn Monroe used to get that color of blonde she had? Isn’t it what we put on our cuts and scrapes? It’s also what the London bombers used in 2005 to wreck havoc to the public transport system and to kill dozens. I have learned hydrogen peroxide and Tang can be a fatal combination. Tang? A childhood drink given “stardust” by the Space Program is now an ingredient in an explosive cocktail easily transportable by backpack? The past is a foreign country, indeed.

I don’t know if the men being investigated are guilty of anything. It seems there were no arrests though I suspect every one of them is being followed everywhere while evidence is sifted to see if they, indeed, were doing something nefarious. Regardless, the story underscores the anxiety I felt in the run-up to the 9/11 Anniversary. If there are chops to this story, part of what is so disturbing is that this is a group of Afghani Al-Qaida, something not seen before and, perhaps, motivated by a desire for tribal revenge for familial deaths in Afghanistan by American forces – revenge seems to be required for the death of relatives and knows no geographical limits. Ah, another part of the tangled web we’ve woven in the years since 9/11.

Yet the world goes on. We all keep putting one foot in front of another and mind our daily business, dealing with the Great Recession, the demands of jobs and clients, needs of friends and lovers, the vagaries of the strange weather, all the things that make up the fabric of everyday life despite the background noise of potential terror groups and all the frightening things unleashed upon our world since that achingly beautiful day that changed the world forever – a day that was a tipping point if ever there was one.

So this is the new reality, the new country in which we are living and there will be more days in which a quiet dread will come upon us because we know absolutely there are those out there that hate us enough to kill us while at the same time we must find the courage to embrace life and find meaning in it as we accept catastrophe is a greater possibility that ever.

Letter From New York 9/11/09

September 11, 2009

Or: as it seems to me…

Labor Day is the emotional if not literal end of summer. The season lingers until later in September but Labor Day… Labor Day is the acknowledged end. Labor Day, in recollection, was a languorous Holiday celebrated by adults while I did my best to mask the knot in my stomach at returning the next day to school. (Particularly painful was the holiday prior to my entering third grade; I was going to be subject to the infamous Sister Neva – a fate to be avoided. Alas, I could not and she proved as daunting as the legend.)

Labor Day weekend in my childhood was a time of barbeques, gatherings of family friends, adults sitting in lawn chairs with highballs and cigarettes while the scent of burgers wafted through the back yard air. It was a moment of indolence. If the phone rang it was generally a guest asking if there was some last minute barbeque component needed.

Flash forward to today. Indolence is on the backburner. Today all Labor Day means is that the velocity and volume of demands diminish. My phone rang with more business demands than social overtures. Business didn’t stop; it slowed. I think the last really languorous Labor Day happened sometime just as email was entrenching itself as part of the business motif. Now I am old enough to remember a time before email – yes, I know that makes me suspect in some circles but it’s true. Before email the world breathed a little easier. Now, with email, cell phones and PDA’s, we are trapped in the immediacy of NOW which does not recognize the boundaries of Holidays and personal time.

Labor Day rest is gone as are vacations. My friends no longer tell anyone they are on vacation. Emails are simply answered from PDA’s poolside. God forbid we tell anyone we have signed off for a moment – they might discover what we fear: they can survive without us. And we can survive without them.

It is anticipated – and we allow the anticipation – that we are always available, that everyone has the right to reach out to us and we will be there. At the ready. With the answer.

It is the world we have created and accepted and it is not going to go away. Yet there are hints people are attempting to deal with it better. Pre-Labor Day weekend I was on the phone with friends and found myself flattened against my desk chair in despair as I witnessed twenty new emails come in demanding my attention as the screen refreshed. My friend Meryl suggested some good coping mechanisms I am doing my best to adopt. I am working to not obsess on the computer and set it aside to do some real work as opposed to responding in Pavlovian fashion to every email popping up on the screen.

Added to the weight of electronic tethers, this year’s Labor Day Weekend came a scant four days before the anniversary of 9/11, the eighth such anniversary and for some reason, at least to me, it was arriving with a sense of discomfort. Mentions of it seem to bring me to the edge of tears for reasons I am not sure I can explain. Is it, I wonder, that I thought eight years ago, that eight years out there would have been some kind of rock solid resolution? I understand intellectually that is not a reasonable expectation. Emotionally, I want one. For God’s sake, World War II was over in about half this amount of time. Instead, we are still in Iraq and digging in in Afghanistan. In emotionally distancing ourselves from 9/11 we threw a self-indulgent economic party. Between the wars and self-indulgence we have nearly bankrupted ourselves.

At a dinner with friends we talked about the world that is emerging. Something new is arising from all of this and we are afraid of what is coming – everything has changed. Technology has altered our world as much as 9/11 and the Great Recession. Put them all together and you have a brand new world – not necessarily brave.

Letter From New York

September 4, 2009

A tale of two towns…

Or – as it seems to me…

September 4, 2009

Much of America paused this past Saturday to watch or listen to some of, if not all, of the funeral service for Edward Moore Kennedy, aka Ted Kennedy, Senior Senator from Massachusetts, the last of the fabled Kennedy brothers and the last male of that Kennedy generation –a bridge to the Camelot years – in other words, someone who was, pretty much, a living legend. He was the only Kennedy brother to live deep into adulthood, the others dead young, this one dying, hopefully peacefully, of natural causes – the only one of the four brothers to do so – male siblings felled violently in war or by assassins.

His brother Joe died a war hero; his brother Jack was the assassinated President and Bobby the martyred politician of such fierce promise. Teddy was the one who seemed to be getting his hand caught in the cookie jar of life – at least when he was younger. He seemed a bit of a charming n’er do well, then forever marked by his handling of the Chappaquiddick accident that claimed the life of Mary Jo Kopechne. That incident almost cost him the authoritative voice the Kennedy name and the iconic weight of his siblings granted him. Later he emerged as a statesman, the lion of the American Senate who was able to get legislation passed, pulling foes together for a common good.

He was a large man, florid, his face marked by the excesses of his life, eloquent, determined, witty, and close to the emotional rawness that comes with loss. I only encountered him in person once, long ago, when he delivered a eulogy for a friend’s cousin. The cousin had been a wealthy man, gay, and an AIDS activist who succumbed to the disease in the years just before the cocktail granted life extension to thousands. I don’t recall the words Kennedy said; I do recall they were inspiring and full of meaning, providing comfort to the family. One came away with the feeling that a lifetime of grieving gave him a gateway into that particular experience.

Perhaps that is what we remember most about Ted Kennedy and why we forgave him his trespasses; he buried so many and so many of us grieved with him over his losses. He was so eloquent in eulogizing Bobby that his words regarding his brother will continue to echo as long as Bobby is remembered. We will remember Teddy, as we will all Kennedy brothers, for their words, well chosen and eloquent, delivered with an elegance that has always seemed more European than American.

The Kennedy family seemed quintessentially American while at the same time sophisticated in an almost un-American way – they seemed to lack the rough edges of most of us. Uncharacteristically, the American nation forgave, eventually, the Kennedys their elegance and even began to emulate it and embrace it. That was part of the Kennedy magic – they could and did win us over. Teddy probably should have lost the love of the public. The Kennedy charm would not have been enough if he had not risen above his flaws. Once he shook the expectation that somehow he should be President, he devoted himself to becoming a skilled Senator, learning the job and performing it well. Tempered by all the tragedy he endured, he not only empathized, he acted upon his empathy. Each Massachusetts family that suffered a loss during 9/11 received a phone call from Kennedy, with follow-ups as necessary. If he knew you and you suffered loss, he would reach out. His strength in life was formed by his ability to survive and endure loss. When others experienced it, he reached out across the sad gulf that is grief to comfort.

His flaws were many, his politics unapologetically liberal [truly the last of a breed], his character suspect early on and almost universally admired later. He endured the tragedies visited upon him by both fate and the flaws of his own character, seeking redemption in hard good work for what he saw as the public good. May he rest in peace, at last.