Letter From New York September 27, 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.

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