Almost four years into my Bay Area adventure--with no end in sight--I continue to read the NY Times religiously, right down to the Metro columnists. I've gradually made more of an effort to understand the local political scene, but if push came to shove I'd rather be quizzed on NYC happenings than on Bay Area doings. I left my heart in New York City, and letting go is a slow process.
And so I was sad this week to read Clyde Haberman's final NYC column. I always read Haberman when I lived in New York, and have sporadically done so since moving. He has a wonderfully dry sense of humor, as revealed in his column soon after 9/11 stating that it was OK for the rest of the country to hate New York City again. And he supported a seemingly quixotic crusade against excessive use of air conditioning in city stores, which actually made its way into city law.
But not all of Haberman's causes were realized. For example, he wrote eloquently about the case of Mark La Cloche, a rehabiliated convict who learned how to become a barber in prison and wanted to contribute to society after serving his time. The same state that had trained him to become a barber refused to grant him a license once he was free, and Mr. La Cloche died at 40 without realizing his dream.
Haberman's final column is a bittersweet meditation about the limited power of the press to effect any real changes. He returned to some themes repeatedly, from his perch as a well-known columnist at the word's most influential newspaper. And yet, little changed. Of course, this is not Haberman's fate alone--anyone who has tried to change an institution or a process, hopefully for the better, knows just how hard it is. This is the disillusionment of the "real world," which all good parents warn their kids about.
And yet, we persevere. We write blog posts. We organize boycotts of publishers. We do this. We do that. All in hopes of making a huge difference in our chosen fields, while knowing at some level that a small difference would actually be plenty impressive. Despair is always an option, as well as complete apathy and impotence. But somehow that's unsatisfying, and thank goodness for that. For as F. Scott Fitzgerald noted 75 years ago in Esquire (thanks to Uri for the quote), "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise."