Posts Tagged ‘social commentary’

Letter From New York 11 18 15 Happy Birthday to me…

November 18, 2015

The day started grey; it looks like it will end grey but at lunchtime the world was flooded with sunlight and happiness, the way I was feeling.

Today is my birthday.  I’m a year older and, I think, a year wiser.  It has been an awfully contemplative year this past year.  When I was in high school, I had my “gang” and we’d laugh and say: live quick, die young and have a good looking corpse.

Unfortunately, some did just that but most of have lived on, exiting middle age for the last act, working to shape this phase of our lives with as much care as we worked to shape other periods in our lives, whether we succeeded or not, we attempted.

At 6:00 AM my friend, Nick Stuart, texted me with what he wanted to be my first “Happy Birthday” of the day.  It was.  I went right back to sleep.  Later, up and having my first coffee, another friend, Mary Dickey, called and we chatted, planning a time to see each other.

I’m here for the rest of the week, snuggling into my cottage.  Right now, I’m listening to jazz and looking across the table, out to the creek.  The trees have shed their leaves and the branches claw nakedly to the sky.

It is not the winter of my discontent.  If anything, I am more content than I have been in my life while watching life unfold in its mysterious ways.  Next January, I will be teaching a class, “Media and Society.”  I’m excited.

My friends Jeffrey and Joyce sent me a message today:  I hope today is a reminder of all good things that have and can happen.

And I am reminded of all the good things that have happened and may well still happen.

As I drove through the countryside, my friend Dairo phoned and we’re meeting for a martini in Hudson, a completely unexpected delight.  Alana Hauptmann, proprietress of The Red Dot, phoned me while I was eating at Relish to sing me “Happy Birthday” and to tell me to stop on by as she had a present for me.

My inbox overflows with messages of good wishes on this day.   Every other second it seems, a new Facebook birthday wish pops up.  This is one of the wonderful things about Facebook.  I’ve heard today by phone, text, email and Facebook from at least a 150 people wishing me well, not to mention the snail mail cards I have collected.

I have not paid much attention to the world beyond me today.  I know there have been developments in Paris and I have not followed them. 

It is my birthday and I am allowing myself to be joyful and whimsical and inattentive to the problem’s of the world.  Time enough tomorrow.

Happy Birthday to me!

Letter From New York Dec 4 2014 An Attitude of Gratitude

December 4, 2014

Today I am in the apartment in New York, the afternoon sun is pouring in as it begins to shift to the west, slowly setting. I attended a Holiday gathering in the city last night at the Upper West Side of my friends, the Foxes. They live in an elegant, classic old apartment in New York with spacious rooms and tall ceilings. Doubling as an art gallery, walls are adorned with modern works by up and coming artists. It was the perfect setting for a city party.

The room was filled with young people, middle-aged ones and those of us who are departing middle age for the third act of life. One of the young ladies serving will soon be on the boards on Broadway, having landed her first role in a Broadway production. Two of the Fox’s sons chatted with their friends and their parents’ friends, both are artistic in nature.

There must have been a hundred people crammed into the apartment, jostling each other while sipping wine or champagne or eating the mountain of shrimp from the dining room table. The party started at six; I arrived about seven with barely enough room to hang my coat.

Shortly after my arrival, I contemplated my departure. I’m not good in crowded situations, especially if playing the guest, not the host. I wanted to be sure I said hello to my hosts before slipping away but before I could do that, I found a moment of calm in the office, a space undiscovered by the hordes. Sitting there was a young man named David and we started chatting, the icebreaker being – wasn’t it good to find a spot where one could breathe? We chatted; he was an actor now transitioning to becoming a director. Seemed to be doing rather well with that; he’s assistant director on a couple of Broadway shows.

When he left, others filtered into the room, seeking respite. The room became a kind of mini-party. A bottle of wine found its way to us and we started a philosophical conversation on the power of gratitude.

One man, a hair dresser to the blue haired ladies who lunch and who sport classic old line names like DuPont, stated that every day he was grateful for what he had and was able to do that day. And he was grateful to God. Another member of the conversation, a retired Wall Street banker, declared his atheism but also said he was grateful, if not to God, per se. I chimed in and called what they were talking about as the attitude to gratitude. We all agreed that gratitude helped us psychologically, whether or not that gratitude was directed toward God.

As the party ended, I was invited to stay on for dinner. We ordered in Indian from our favorite local place and when it arrived sat down around the now cleared dining room table and chatted, six of us in total: the Foxes, three overnight guests and me.

We were a lively crowd with lively chatter amongst us; subjects ranged from travel in India [several of us had], to where we would like to go in the future, to the jewelry made by Tina, one of the six.

Inevitably, the subject came up of the decision that had been announced earlier in the day that the police officer involved in the Eric Garner chokehold death would not be indicted. The room was filled with deep concern about it and a sense of frustration. Were police immune in deaths of minorities in America? Following on the lack of an indictment against Darren Wilson in Ferguson it might seem to be that way. There was no conclusion; no dining room indictment but there was concern.

The concern spilled over into the streets last night, mostly peacefully. Some were arrested but on minor charges. Crowds marched up the West Side Highway, chanting: We can’t breathe! We can’t breathe! I can’t breathe being the last words of Eric Garner.

There was an attempt to disrupt the lighting of the tree in Rockefeller Center but that wasn’t going to happen – the police were well prepared for that, causing someone to tweet that the police were protecting the tree better than they did Eric Garner.

The Ferguson tragedy was one scene in the play of race tension in America, the Eric Garner case another.

This morning, running late to an appointment, I hailed a livery service. I asked the driver, a white man, and immigrant by his accent, how he was today? He shook his head, “I just worry about justice in this country.”

And that summed up how all of us had felt at dinner, worried about justice in this country. Two incidents, added to other incidents, caused us to ponder whether justice had a level playing field, not just between races but also between social classes, between the mentally ill and the healthy, between “the other” and ourselves.

Texas will perhaps execute tonight a man who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, who defended himself and called as witnesses, among some 200, the Pope and John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of people and dozens of organizations cry for clemency for a man they see as mentally sick. Probably their cries will not be heard tonight in Texas.

As one who attempts to practice the attitude of gratitude, I hope that one day I can be grateful that concern over justice in this country has abated.

Professionally young in Cloud Koo Koo Land March 31, 2009

April 5, 2009

A long time ago, in the primordial soup that was my youth, I played a character in THE BIRDS, authored by Aristophanes and translated from the original Greek by a classmate of mine, Jeff La Count, who had a mastery of ancient languages even in high school. He created a simple and wonderful adaptation of Aristophanes’ play.

The first line of the play, which I spoke as the character of Euelpides, was: here we are, ready and willing to go to the birds – and we can’t even find the way! He and his comrade, Pisthetairos, were looking for “the birds.” If they could find the mythical kingdom of the Birds all rules of life could be overturned. Ultimately finding The Birds, they created a place called Cloud-koo-koo-land, where all the normal rules were abrogated and new ones created, ultimately upending the reign of the Gods.

Interpreted in the 20th Century it could have been a Laurel and Hardy vehicle.

I am thinking of this because we are in the process of finding our way out of our own Cloud-koo-koo-land. Just as we the country responded to the horror of World War I with the party called the Roaring ‘20’s, we responded to 9/11 with the irrational exuberance of the last years. We took all the normal rules of finance and abrogated them with new ones that made no sense and ultimately that brought us down. Cloud-koo-koo-land can’t last forever…

This train of thought was reinforced standing in line for a newspaper while surrounded by the magazines that feed off our addiction to celebrity. There are such a staggering number that in many newsstands it is almost impossible to find a news magazine; they’ve been relegated to the back rows. One “Special Issue” magazine recently was a paean to celebrity beauty, a detailed scrutiny of the evolution of physical charms among male and female celebrities. More than one nose looked rather different between now and then. Standing there, looking at this catalog of physical charms, it crossed my mind that most of these people are practicing the art of being professionally young, a quality that has been ascribed to our nation, another aspect of the Cloud-koo-koo-land we have been inhabiting.

We are a country that has been playing perpetually youthful, as we have been moving into our middle age. Youth and youthfulness are attributes we have ascribed to ourselves; it has been our trademark since our founding. Young, brash, overcoming all odds, rising to the occasion, winning World Wars, first to the moon, leading the world in our productivity and our enthusiasm, populated by youthful, exuberant individuals who can defy age and time.

May be relentless youthfulness is not the best thing we have to offer anymore. Perhaps we gained some wisdom in our youth and can call upon that now as we work to take our place in this new, strange world in which we find ourselves – the world of The Great Recession, insurgencies, wars, travails and troubles.

Perhaps the thing to do now is to acknowledge we’re getting a bit longer in the tooth and that all the energy used to stay professionally young might better be spent in just being professional. We have had a grand party but perhaps now it’s time to do the Twelve Step meeting thing and figure out how to live in sobriety.