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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

The tree at Rockefeller Center is ablaze, turned on with great enthusiasm this week by a city that is sensing hope.

There are good economic signs everywhere. We are beginning to think the long two and a half year recession may be coming to an end.

Every news report indicates the economy is on the uptick. There is anticipation the Dow might once again crack 10,000.

The general sense of business people with whom I have talked is that this has been one hell of a roller coaster year and everyone is now, as the year ends, thinking we might have turned a corner. If nothing bad happens, we might be out of the woods and headed across the river.

It’s been that kind of week – hopeful, and it feels good. People are fantasizing about better times so they can begin to pay down their debt. Whatever bounce the economy has had these past years seems to have come from the public’s willingness to carry debt rather than cut back on lifestyle. Homes have been refinanced, credit card limits extended. A whole section of the New York Times this week was devoted to consumerism and credit, for good and ill.

When all was said and done when I read it, it was a testament to, I think, the underlying optimism of Americans. All of us, particularly, I suspect, baby boomers, are relentlessly optimistic. But we are also individuals who feel emotionally entitled to affluence.

We’re not going to let a little thing like a really bad recession get us down, even if we end up with what would seem to our parents horrifying debt.

All week I have been thinking about that article and how reflective it is of many people I know. Many of my close friends were, like me, affected dramatically by the dotcom crash followed by the disaster of 9/11.

And everyone has, in their best way, attempted to cope in a way that would minimize what was perceived as their style of life. For many of us, it has meant taking on debt, juggling our lives, changing the ways we do things, working free lance jobs and, at the end of the day, recreating our lives – but with the goal of keeping the way we live our lives, economically, as close to what we think of as “normal” as possible.

Cutting back, for those born to the middle class and above doesn’t seem to be perceived as much of an option. I heard this in the voice of a friend who was finding it difficult to make ends meet on his mid six figure income. It is not that it is not enough money to live on – it is just not enough money to live in the style in which he thinks he is supposed to be living.

He reflects not just himself, his generation but our country. To keep living normally in these abnormal times, the Government is borrowing tremendous – and I mean TREMENDOUS – amounts of money so that we can keep on living “normally” despite an international war against terrorism and a host of other domestic issues that need addressing.

A sense of economic balance is something I struggle with, internally. I want my life to be what I think my life should be like – what I think is expected of me.

But what I have found interesting in the last three years is that I am redefining what I expect of myself. It is one of the healthiest times in my life – learning what works for me or not and what I need and do not need. I still have a long way to go. Certainly my aspirations continue but I am finding more centeredness in those expectations, built now around a long term view of what my life will be like for the rest of my life. I know I am not alone.

We need, I think, to be evaluating what we want our lives to be like going forward, in this time of the new “normal.”

But it is the Christmas shopping season for 2003. The moment of fear has passed about whether or not Americans would plunge into more debt to finance this Christmas. We will.

Cash registers are ringing and as a result the stock market is climbing and there is general buoyancy in the air.

We are inveterate partiers; we Americans, believing that as long as we party there’ll be no hangover. Is there, though, a better way?