Archive for August, 2011

Letter From New York August 29, 2011

August 29, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…

Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning…

Saturday morning when I woke up, the sky to the east of Claverack Cottage was painted a pale primrose red and I thought of the sailor’s warning. I had taken the 5:45 train out of Manhattan on Friday, headed north, to batten down the hatches, so to speak, for the storm of the century.

I filled my bathtub with water so I could, if needed, flush the toilets. I took, with the help of young Nick from Hudson, things off the deck and piled them in the shed. Turned over the Adirondack chairs and the heaters so they couldn’t blow over in the wind. Bought bottled water and checked to make sure I had enough batteries for my flashlights and pulled out the emergency suitcase with the wind-up radio. I was as ready as I could be.

It was not quite the storm of the century. New York City made it through pretty unscathed, though a friend told me there were downed trees everywhere. Large parts of New Jersey were under water according to Governor Christie. And we got off easily because it was so bad in North Carolina, according to CNN.

I am at the cottage and not sure when I will get back to New York as the trains aren’t running though things should be better by Wednesday latest.

So there was Hurricane Irene. Earlier in the week there had been an earthquake that rumbled things from North Carolina up to Maine. I was sitting in an Italian restaurant and didn’t feel a thing but most of New York did. In the restaurant, cell phones went off. It started a round of stories at every table of earthquakes experienced, mostly in California.

Jokes abounded toward the end of the week. Earthquake. Hurricane. Michelle Bachman. Rick Perry. Could we not interpret these as portends of the end of times? Probably. Perhaps it is the end of times. Certainly some evangelical Christians are saying these ARE the end of times. The Mayan Calendar ends next year around my birthday and there are those who believe that because the Mayan Calendar goes no further, it means we all will hit the wall.

Me? Well, it could be the end of times. I frankly don’t know. Can’t do much about it if it is the end of times. I am, right now, along for whatever the ride is.

Sometimes I think about that on very rough airplane flights. I’m there. I’m can’t do much about it; I am on for the ride.

But in the meantime, I am caught in the fact I am alive and death has not taken a holiday lately. My friend Chris Doyle, written about last week, is still gone. Another friend, Susan Panisch, once an executive at a network I dealt with, died last week, after the earthquake but before the hurricane. Well one day, diagnosed with lymphoma another, dead in three weeks. Will miss her.

Carolyn Chambers, once my boss, then my friend, gone too. Cancer also. Time takes our friends and colleagues, our relatives, our co-workers. It takes everyone, eventually, including ourselves, who live as if we will live forever even though we really know no one gets out of here alive.

But we do our best to live as fully as we can, at least I hope we do.

Though sometimes we don’t, just because we think we will live forever. I had a conversation with a friend this week; he had asked a favor of me. I told him I was glad to do it. I told him he was a remarkable human being. He was taken aback that I said it but I also felt the beating of the wings of the angel of death and did not want to leave unsaid what we so often leave unsaid, the beauty of the people we know and love.

Take heed of that, fellow travelers. Don’t look at someone’s casket and say: I wish I had told them.

Send flowers while people can still smell them.

Letter From New York, August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011

Or, as it seems to me…
I am back from the Vineyard and ensconced this morning at the cottage, curled on the couch, as the early morning sun becomes hidden behind incoming rain clouds, rain that has been predicted all weekend but which has held off now until today, Sunday.

I realized that the cottage is my land of “off.” I arrive and feel a weight lift from me, for a moment I am away, mostly, from the deluge of email, some of which feel like they “e-maul” me.

And the lovely sight of Claverack Creek lazily flowing is more than soothing and over each day I am here, I want, as much as possible, to let the soul rest as well as the body, to enjoy quiet and to recoup from the wear and tear of life. Even though I know my life is magic compared with so many in the world – almost all our lives are – I also know we are not immune from the vagaries of life.

Earlier this week, I read that western nations are more deeply plagued by depression than underdeveloped nations. Is it, I wonder, the result of complex lives, the juggling of so much beyond the basics that our brains malfunction from the strain of processing? Is depression a by-product of technological development? At least on the scale from which we seem to suffer from it?

I don’t know the answer to that but the question has scratched around my brain since I read that factoid in an online article earlier this week while researching something completely different. So I went online and googled “depression and technology” and found out I am not the only man on a laptop who has questioned that this might be the case. “Depression and technology” brought up 131,000,000 items in 0.17 seconds [oh, how we love you Google]. There are also indications that technology can help with depression, particularly among seniors who are beginning to feel isolated and feel they have lost their autonomy.

It is complex and fascinating and a subject I am going to delve into more as time goes on. One writer ruminated on what he felt was the impossibility of the human mind at this time successfully processing all the information we are presented with [I’m saying ‘at this time’ because gosh knows we evolve; perhaps we are at a stage similar to the first creatures that crawled out of the sea to conquer land living?]. But certainly the human brain has had to cope with a dazzling degree of technological evolution in the last hundred or so years.

My Google search revealed people were beginning to wonder about it in the 1920’s and if they were wondering about it then…

Just think about how many of us get anxious if we haven’t checked our email on our smartphones in the last twenty minutes? How many people do I know, myself included, who roll over in the morning and check their smartphone to see what has occurred during the night? Many. Almost all of the people I know are information obsessive and feel anxious if they are cut off.

And this probably is not a good thing. Perhaps a very bad thing? Perhaps a road toward depression?

So I am going to do my best the next few days and pay attention to information overload, be sensitive to it and hold it a bit at bay while still accomplishing my duties and yet thinking about the role technology may play on us, individually and nationally, in encountering psychological distress as the price of technological innovation.