Archive for September, 2014

Letter From New York

September 29, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

It is Sunday afternoon as I begin to write this; the day is impeccable: mid – 70’s for a temperature, cloudless blue skies and a soft wind blowing through the changing leaves. Fall has arrived; there is no going back and next week I’m sure one of the major tasks will be to blow the drive clear of fallen leaves. But today is perfect. In the background, soft jazz plays on Pandora while in the kitchen I am slow cooking appetizers for a neighborhood party later today.

I am a world away from everything here. While sun sparkles off my creek, the world beyond me implodes. While soft jazz plays, more are dying of Ebola.   While my appetizers simmer, refugees go hungry. I am constantly, continually baffled by the contrasts in the world. And while I am baffled, I realize I live in a world of contrasts and that it has always been a world of contrasts.

Outside my window, my local groundhog happily nibbles on the fallen acorns, a lovely moment in my afternoon, watching him. Two days ago when I went out to the car, a family of deer was in my drive, watching me with idle curiosity before they sauntered off into the woods.

It is bucolic here. There are woodland creatures that remind me of the rhythm of nature; there is an expanse of trees, leaves turning yellow and crimson, reminding me of the same. The seasons are changing, time is moving on. The natural progression of things is happening.

In a few weeks, I face another birthday. It’s another mark of progression. I am getting older. We all are.

Now, as I write this, the sun is setting in the west. Twilight grey is spreading across the cottage and its bit of land. Another day is moving away from me.

Last night, sitting in my living room after a lovely dinner at the Red Dot with my friends Lionel and Pierre and Lionel’s sister, brother-in-law and nephew, I found myself ruminating about life and aging.

Not unsurprisingly, I am feeling the winds of time. I am older than I have ever been. Stories come to me of my contemporaries leaving us, too soon, too much before what I feel should be their time. Yet it is happening. Nothing is secure and nothing is sacred – everything, including us, is susceptible to the churning of the clock and the vagaries of the universe. Suddenly, one day, health deserts us and we lay vulnerable when perhaps just the day before we felt invulnerable.

A contemporary of mine travels more than anyone I know and he has begun to wonder if when he locks the door of his hotel room at night it might not be his last night. These are thoughts he had never had had before, thoughts that come to us unbidden now that age creeps up on us and becomes part of our reality.

So last night I was thinking of several friends who have been wonderful friends over the years and I wanted to reach out to them to say: I am grateful you have been part of my life. However, I hesitate. What would they think? Would they appreciate it or would it disturb them in some unanticipated way?

A long time ago I made a promise to do my best to not let go unexpressed the care I had for another. For the most part, I think I have done that. But there are those I only see once in a great while you have been so much of my life and have I said enough to them that they know how much they mean to me?

It is a challenge for me to consider in the next weeks. I am fine today but we are, as I have said, susceptible to the vagaries of the universe. Perhaps we should all remember that as we move from day to day. If we reminded one another of how much we cared, perhaps the violence quotient would go down?

Letter From New York September 26, 2014

September 27, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The whole of the Hudson Valley is enveloped in grey, with rain occasionally splottering down on me – though so far the torrential rains promised for this afternoon have yet to appear.

Earlier this week I read a NY Times column by Roger Cohen reminding us that things aren’t as bad as they seem. He was fairly upbeat: he dismissed ISIS as a bunch of thugs in trucks and Putin as a thug running a failing regime. New York is a better place than it has been, perhaps ever. And that is true, he says of a lot of American cities – they are better than they ever were! Hey, even Detroit is beginning something of a comeback.

His article buoyed me through a couple of days, into today, when the grey kind of “got to me” and I began to fret about the world in which I live. The boys of ISIS may just be thugs in trucks but they are killing by the thousands and causing people to become refugees in the hundreds of thousands. They are, unfortunately, effective thugs. Putin may be a thug at the head of a failing regime but failing though it may be, he can still stir up trouble of all kinds.

New York is probably better than it has ever been while it is more unaffordable than it has ever been. Manhattan seems to becoming an island of only the rich. Certainly seems to be the case in Midtown, where Billionaire’s Row is rising.

Yet I cannot bring myself to completely despair – not quite in my nature. But there are plenty of reasons to be concerned, even as some hopeful signs bloom. One of the American auto companies is adding 1200 employees to one of its plants to keep up with demand. That is a good sign. So is that new homes sales reached their highest point since 2008.

Winston Churchill is supposed to have said: You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing – after they have tried everything else.

The question we face is what is the right thing to do, particularly in the Mideast. The warriors of ISIS are thugs and that’s part of the attraction they offer their followers, the opportunity for uneducated young men to practice sanctioned thuggery. Their wild brand of Sunni extremism seems to be an outgrowth of Saudi religious extremism. Which apparently is causing the Saudi King some concern; he has brought his Kingdom into the fray, his Air Force flying sorties against ISIS.

It is a bit of a diplomatic coup that Obama has managed to put together any kind of coalition to fight ISIS, especially one that includes other Sunnis. [While I am beginning to recognize the differences I can’t tell you what theological dispute resulted in this devolution to thuggery.] I am sure I will learn more as it is impossible to follow world news without also learning more about the nuances of Islam, as multi-layered and confusing, it seems, as is Christianity.

The fear I have is that we are living on the cusp of an Islamic Reformation. Some scholars say we are long overdue for a Reformation within Islam. That does not cause sanguinity within me; look what happened during the Christian Reformation. Wars and pestilence ravaged the land while Christians killed each other because they disagreed with how others worshipped Christ. It was all very unchristian.

And I fear that is what might be happening in Islam. You don’t worship Allah the way I worship Allah and so therefore you are damned and deserve to die. You are heretic. Ah, harkens to that wonderful time known as the Inquisition. Christians refined torture to a delightful degree, practicing it on other Christians.

The easy thing to say is that religion, of any kind, is the root of all evil. But perhaps within religion answers can be found and perhaps Islam can learn from the mistakes of their Christian brothers.

Letter From New York September 16, 2014

September 16, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

As I begin to write this, it is a quiet night. I am sitting in the kitchen of my friends Dawn and Gail’s home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. They are out with friends and I am sitting putting together my thoughts about the past week.

It was another anniversary of 9/11, the 13th. There was for me a certain symmetry to this one. On September 10th, 2001 I spent the evening with Jon Alpert, the visionary filmmaker, at a screening of a film he had done about the election in New York that was about to happen, Mark Green versus the billionaire Mike Bloomberg.

An early review of the film said that it would topple Bloomberg’s chances of winning the election. Mike Bloomberg came across as arrogant, privileged, ill-mannered, capricious and not a good candidate for Mayor. But then 9/11 happened and the world changed and a billionaire businessman seemed the best person to take over a city that was reeling from a great catastrophe. And, it turned out, he wasn’t a bad mayor. He may have been capricious, ill-mannered, arrogant and privileged but he brought the city back from the brink and carried it through the dark days of 2001 and 2002 when the city was so wounded it didn’t understand how it would survive its pain.

So on September 10th, 2014, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of 9/11 I found myself back in the company of Jon Alpert. He and I had dinner with our mutual friend Diana Sperazza, currently an Executive Producer for Investigation Discovery. Before that, she had been at Discovery Times Network and had been the EP on a project we had done ten years ago, OFF TO WAR.

We laughed and reminisced and talked about 9/11, 2001. Diana had been living in Washington. I had been in New York. Jon had been in New York, too. Filmmaker that he is, he grabbed a camera and headed towards the catastrophe and caught poignant images of that day. He had marched from his organization’s headquarters in the oldest firehouse in New York, mere blocks from Ground Zero and managed to get past the barricades. His footage ended up in an HBO special.

The weather has been eerily like that surrounding 9/11. Beautiful, sun kissed days. All summer I have thought about how like that time this summer has been and have had an uneasy feeling. 9/11 in New York was the most beautiful day and we have had the most beautiful summer. Some part of me has lived in fear that some terrible event would befall us this beautiful summer.

We made it through. There was no repeat of 9/11. No mass terrorist event.

But we now live in a world that is the child of that day. Since then, we have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and made a bloody mess of them. ISIS has just killed yet another Western hostage. The Caliphate rises; Arab states want to stop them but are tepid in their support of our desire to stop them. Various terrorist groups now seem to be starting to cooperate, lending their “expertise” to each other. Beheadings are becoming a trend. Egyptian terrorists have started using the gruesome practice in hopes of getting as much attention as ISIS or ISIL or IS, whatever they are being called.

The world feels like a more dangerous place these days. Our outrage against beheadings doesn’t stop them. Sanctions haven’t tempered Mr. Putin’s expansionist tendencies. And our response to Ebola has been slow and strangely muted.

A strange exhaustion has fallen upon us. Everyone seems tired on all sides of the political equation. Boehner seems reading a script as opposed to acting from conviction. One pundit described Obama as a bird in gilded cage, waiting to be let out. Like many Presidents, the office is aging him rapidly.

So we go on, living our lives as best we can while the world seems whirling out of control. Here at home our infrastructure is decaying as we fight wars to keep the barbarians from the gates.

Letter From New York September 7, 2014

September 8, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

Far away, there is the sound of a chain saw cutting wood. Its buzz is the only artificial noise in my world. There is a soft breeze rustling the leaves in the woods, blowing lightly through the opened windows. When I awoke this morning, I went outside to test the mettle of the day and it was perfect – there was a light feel of fall in the air, a feel that has lingered through the day. It has been exquisite, a sweet Sunday in the country.

Down in the city, Joan Rivers was set to rest. Back in the day, I met her once, after a performance at the old Carlos and Charlie’s on Sunset Blvd. She wanted to personally thank me for a favor I had done her when I ran the West Coast office for A&E – I got her copies of a program that she wanted to watch. She was diminutive and gracious and shy and very different from the raucous person on stage. May she rest in peace.

It is yet another day when I am struck by the beauty of my life in the country, its peacefulness as contrast to the troubled world outside my little circle. The staccato of violence goes on in the Mid-East. There are terrible floods in Kashmir and storms are supposed to be moving from the American mid-west towards my lovely little circle. So I am celebrating the day I have.

Friday and Saturday, I attended the wedding of Todd Broder to Dana Pauley. I’ve known Todd for a dozen years or so, since he was almost fresh out of college and was represented by Jim Arnoff, another friend. He has grown in the years and is now a sought after producer/director. Along the way I introduced him to my godson, Paul, and the two became fast friends.

So attending Todd’s wedding was made even more celebratory in that I got a chance to spend time with he and his wife, Robyn. Standing in a courtyard, late the night of the wedding, I looked at him and realized I had a special history with him, for which I am very grateful. We had a circuitous route to becoming close but we have and I am so proud of him. He had Robyn have two beautiful children and a relationship I admire. I am so very grateful he has allowed me to have a place in his life.

Todd’s wedding was very special. He produced it well. A friend of theirs was ordained for the day to marry them, a shaman of the Internet. He was funny and wise, reverent and irreverent. He will not be quickly forgotten. He and his mother “tore up the rug” dancing.

The other great thing was that it was a concrete counterpoint to all the things in the world that are so dark and which cause us to despair. In the midst of all of this, we continue to marry and celebrate. We have deep relationships with other people that are anchors in our lives. Our friendships abide.

All these things stand as lights in the world, against the darkness that seems encroaching. Celebration helps push away despair.

So I will now go celebrate this day by taking a walk through the circle, holding to me the joys of a perfect day which follows two lovely days of being in the presence of friends and loved ones.

Letter From New York September 3, 2014

September 3, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

The sun is playing hide and seek with the clouds; it is warm but not hot, only slightly humid. Sighing, I am noticing that more leaves outside my window where I write are turning yellow while the soft breeze blows through the branches.

Outside my living room and dining room windows, a tree is being taken down; struck last year by lightening; it has given up the fight. Dying, it needs to be removed lest it fall upon the cottage. I am sorry to see it go; it was a good, strong tree that provided shade to the deck. It was sturdy; it had its place in my life and then, literally, lightening struck and it now is going. It will change my view of the creek; its departure will change my life a little.

But that is what they say life is about: changes. So I have to embrace the change. I am doing a lot of that lately, with having moved on from Odyssey. Appointments in the city moved from this week to next and I find myself with a week at the cottage, an unexpected delight – and a challenge. Now that I do not need to go into town everyday, I am discovering how to discipline myself so I don’t go completely to seed here at the cottage.

The day begins, as it always does, with a perusal of the news from the NY Times, assimilating what has happened overnight. Today there may or may not be a ceasefire in the Ukraine but the possibility of one is a hopeful sign.  

The world is continuing to grapple with the death of American Steven Sotloff, gruesomely beheaded by ISIS [or IS or ISIL, depending on which source you’re reading or who is being quoted].

And, in another sign of change, the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade, will now allow gay groups to march in it. Come next March 17th you can be out and proud and Irish all in the same parade.

Not all change is bad; much of it, in fact, is good if we allow room for it in our lives. That old adage: nothing stays the same is true. Recently, I cleaned out a box of old pictures and nothing reminds you of the time going by then photos of yourself from a different time and life.

I consigned them to the dustbin of history and sent them to be recycled. I am more concerned about now than then. I have carved out a good life for myself here at the cottage and down in the city. I am embracing it. I smile to myself at times; it is a time to cherish, watching the light splatter on my drive, the little fountain in the center of the circular drive gurgling. I have good friends, good neighbors, and good things happening – all the while the world is changing about me.

Carpe diem, said the Romans. Seize the day! And so I am seizing the day and moving on with it, nurtured by the sight of leaves turning in one more cycle of life.

Letter From New York September 02, 2014

September 2, 2014

Or, as it seems to me… 

I learned a hard lesson yesterday; I wrote a blog directly on WordPress and then there was a glitch and all my eloquent words disappeared into digital dust. So I have learned to draft in Word and copy and paste into WordPress. A small lesson.

I was writing about how beautiful it was but how the leaves had begun to change – fall is no longer far away. You can reach out and touch it.

My mind was focused on the dichotomy between the sylvan beauties of the cottage here in Claverack and the harsh realities when you get away from this little spot. Not so far away Hudson is transforming itself into a quaint town, full of gentrified housing and charming shops and galleries. In twenty-five years, I suspect the town will be rather like Provincetown without the Atlantic.

But that doesn’t change the fact there is poverty in Hudson now and that some of it seems intractable. It’s not the kind of poverty you witness in India but it is hardscrabble for America.

Go a little further afield and you find that Ferguson, MO is still restless and wounded after the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown. A call for a traffic stoppage mostly didn’t materialize yesterday, at the request of Michael’s father. The death of young Michael Brown has caused America to pause and think about the state of race relations. Have we really come all that far?

African-Americans make up the majority of inmates in prisons. They have higher incidences of poverty. They are more likely to get harassed by the police.

I was at a conference in Washington, DC not so long ago, hosted by Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization. In one of the sessions, the founder of Sojourners, Jim Wallis, asked the audience to look into their hearts to see what private prejudices they maintained. And looking into my heart, I was not innocent. Underneath the surface, it took an extra beat to push back the societal prejudices, not to mention some familial prejudices, that I was raised with – while I might not act upon those thoughts, I still had those thoughts, enough that I sometimes consciously had to batten them down.

I don’t like that.

But it is real. And I suspect is realer than we would really like to admit.

It is nearing the end of the day and reports are filtering out that ISIS, the tightly organized group that is carving out a rogue state, an Islamic Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, has beheaded another American, Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist captured in Syria. Another atrocity in a region filled with atrocities, lands now overflowing with refugees and where suicide bombings seem like a daily event. A world away from the quiet of Patroon Street in Claverack, NY but still in and of my world.