Thursday, September 29, 2011

No Comment

I do it several times a day. Or perhaps the more accurate thing to say would be, several times a day I don't do it.

I will find a blog post or article somewhere, and get something out of it. Sometimes a lot, sometimes just a tiny bit. I will scroll down to the comments section, ready to respond with a question or praise for the piece. I'll look at the little box for three, four, sometimes more minutes. I will type two words then stop. I'll erase those, think another minute, and then in one effortless flow type off about a paragraph in response to the piece in question.

When finished I'll read it over. I'll let my cursor hover over the "Comment" button for a moment...and then I will erase the comment, and leave the website totally.

This is enhanced when there are anymore than say 20 comments on a post. Beyond that, I feel there is even less of a reason for me to say anything.

Comment block?

I try to be a frequent commentator on my friends' blogs. I grow weary of getting almost no comments after year and years (and years) of blogging, so I try to help out those I know when I can with some comment love. Yet if I barely know the person, or do not know them at all, the bar is much higher. I often have to be quite inspired or quite irritated by what has been posted in order for me to get passed this little mental force field I have described.

Truth be told I am not 100% certain what the deal is with my opting so often to abandon comments with such regularity. Yet I have a theory; I want to say something profound, unique, or exquisite every single time.

This feeling of, "who cares" creeps in once I form my comments in most cases. Without that added fuel of amazement and delight, (not frequent) or disgust and indignation, (more frequent), my comments feel like unflavored rice cakes to me. Sure they are there, but are they really actually anything at all? You can see, feel touch, and on some rudimentary level taste them, but once consumed do they have the slightest impact?

I'm an intelligent, witty guy and a good writer. Yet if all of that is not in evidence with every little two sentence comment I leave on a blog post with which I agree, I feel I am wasting my time, and the time of other readers as well as the author of the post.

Of course even geniuses are not on all the time, I realize that. I also realize that a comment section is not exclusive for most people. That many writers appreciate just a simply sentence expressing agreement, or at least enjoyment of said post or article. That is certainly the case for me. (Hint.) Yet when I am the one doing the commenting, I suddenly feel there is a higher standard.

Is it my usual quasi-perfectionism? Is it my subconscious belief that if I have nothing new to offer a conversation, it is better to offer nothing? Is my being an introvert somehow tied into this? Would I rather not be seen at all than be seen as being like everyone else? I hate talking to the wind, so perhaps not having a standout comment, that sounds like many of the other comments on a thread feels like I am talking to nobody because I am being drowned out by all the identical mediocrity. Or perhaps if I don't feel the comment is ever going to be read, I am likely to not even post it. I just don't know.

Perhaps all, or perhaps none of the above. I'm just Too XYZ to leave comments as often as I should.

How often do you leave comments on articles or blog posts you enjoy? Do you have a criteria, or do you just go for it as the proverbial spirit moves you?

Monday, September 26, 2011

What Interruption?

I am an introvert, but I have my extroverted moments.  Remember that there is in everyone a bit of their opposite temperament. I am no exception.

Sometimes my extroverted moments do come naturally, I swear.  At other times I need to manufacture such moments. There is a limit of course, because despite what anybody tells you, true introverts cannot become extroverts. Yet there are certain extroverted actions I can opt to take if the need arises. (And provided I have a few days to recover afterwards.)

In order to initiate such extroverted moments however, I have to remind myself that not everyone is an introvert. This may be the hardest part about me being extroverted at times, even when it is acceptable and possible for me.

You see, in most situations I would prefer not to be approached by a stranger on the street. And as I go about my day I let myself assume that nobody else wants to be approached either. As a matter of fairness I say to myself, "Now if you were sitting on that park bench you would not want a stranger to come up to you and ask you a question. And even if you wouldn't mind, you owe it to a stranger to be extra careful about taking up their time. You therefore have no right to walk up to a stranger yourself and ask a question, even during the rare occasions when you find the need."

The truth is even I do not always hate being asked something. But I give an even greater bubble to other people than I expect of myself, because my immediate thought is to leave everyone alone at all times. After all, I usually want to be left alone too.

As an introvert, I believe that everyone deserves to be left alone. And for the most part I do leave everyone alone. But there have been times where it would have been in my best interest to engage someone, but I didn't, out of a heightened sense of propriety. 

Just as extroverts tend to assume that anybody sitting alone would welcome their company and conversation, we introverts tend to assume that they would not. Sometimes we are correct, and sometimes we are mistaken.

So the key to me is to prioritize. If as an introvert you have determined your reasons for doing an extroverted thing are legitimate and likely to be of benefit to you, go on and do the thing you are considering, (assuming of course you are comfortable with it.) If the person wants to be left alone, you of all people can understand that. And if they do not mind engaging you, than you can be surprised, and receive whatever benefit you were hoping for in the first place.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Market for Stability: Lessons from Facebook, Netflix and the like.

I am convinced that despite all of the talk and action to the contrary these days, there is a market for stability. As in, a large portion of consumers who are content with the status quo of their product or service for now. Any changes are best made slowly and with as much explanation as possible to such a demographic.

Not only am I convinced that such a type of consumer exists, but I feel bold enough to state that for at least some services and products they represent the largest group, and companies often ignore them, if not to their peril, than at least to their regret for a while.

There are plenty of examples lately. Netflix/Quikster. Facebook. Brazen Careerist. All had a great idea to begin with, and for a while made gradual adjustments to improve the execution of said unique mission. Then this disease of innovation for the sake of innovation crept in, and the very people who made these entities what they are, (as in, the current majority of consumers) are left out on the cold to either adjust to the whimsical desire to "jump out of our comfort zone", or leave the service.

This wholesale abandonment of the masses that have quite simply, made such places is not random. It is driven by a stupefying and discouraging desire to cater not to the 95% of users who are happy for now, but to the maybe 5% of users called "trend setters".

These are the people that always want the "next" thing whether it works or not. The people who geek out at every small possibility that a phone could have next year, and are not satisfied unless their phone, and every other damn phone in the world shifts to have that very thing, whether the vast majority of humanity needed it or not. The people who see it as their responsibility to somehow insist that their own personal "edgy" preferences are always implemented. This, so that they can can singlehandedly pull the dissatisfied and ignored consumer majority into their version of the "future." And of course by the time the inertia of so many customers being forced towards the New Jerusalem is complete, the 5% is again calling for a new trend, service, policy, procedure or some other "it" thing. And the process begins anew.

It is allowed to do so all of the time, because companies like the ones I mention above, along with countless others, always cater to that 5% who says it is possible to change something, ergo it must be changed. The prescient elite have determined that a popular feature is redundant, so the 100 million other people who still make regular, comfortable use of same will have to go without, their ire be damned. Then it all gets wrapped up into the concept of "leaving the comfort zone" or "pushing the envelope", to which more and more trend setters, business people, and especially social media gurus feel the need to genuflect before taking their morning piss.

There is an irony to all of this. The very act of changing the fundamental nature of a one's brand, mission, product, service, or demographic, in order to "stay fresh" (that term always sounded vaguely foul to me), in fact makes a company just another run of the mill, boring bottom line oriented fad chaser left shaking in their boots. In other words, they "go corporate" and in so doing, lose any real distinction to which they could lay previous claim. It's almost to the point where remaining a solid, constant brand which is open with its thoughts about change, and gradual in the implementation is in fact the most unconventional way to do business. In a world where a brand is considered outdated if it hasn't changed its logo today, being committed to a mission is being edgy.

I have said it before and I will again. You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. But you know what? You can catch even more flies with a big steaming pile of shit. in other words, yes, a company may continue to see success by the numbers, (Facebook's atrocious changes aside, they still have 750 million users), but those numbers will likely be people who try everything ones. Or people that have no discernment. Or people that just follow the crowd because they don't know any better. Such a crowd will keep you afloat for a while. But beware; they know no loyalty. As soon as the flavor of the month changes, those flies will be all over the other shit.

Change is sometimes needed. Nobody makes a living building covered wagons anymore. But evolution and innovation are not always the same thing. Especially when a move as radical as Facebook makes every month leaves almost everyone confused, annoyed, and less likely to use the service.

Instead of the reinvention, focus changes, divestitures, mergers, consolidations, pushing of envelopes and shocking of the system, show me a company that knows it offers something that could be changed in a radical way every few weeks, (based on that whiny and vocal 5% needles them about all the time), but opts instead to be content to let true brand loyalty build overtime based on a consistent, stable presence.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Live Every Moment?

I was lightly kicking myself the other day when a friend of mine asked me on Facebook if I went to see REO Speedwagon at the local Great Frederick Fair. No, I had not, despite my being a fan of not only their music, but their overall attitude. I had heard they would be appearing at the event about a year ago, but didn't think more about it, and forgot until my friend broached the subject. (They probably will never again be performing in my very own county, dammit.)

There are many of their songs, both their most famous hits and their lesser known tunes that I like. Sometimes for the music, sometimes for the lyrics, and some for both, of course. One upbeat tune of theirs is "Live Every Moment." It is part love song, of course, because it is after all an REO Speedwagon song. Yet the message of the song, especially the opening, rings true in many endeavors. 

Live every moment. Love every day.
'Cuz before you know it your precious time slips away.
Live every moment. Love every day.
'Cuz if you don't you might just throw your love away.

Sounds obvious. Somebody says something similar just about everywhere you go. So the message is not unique to Kevin Cronin or course, and the lyrics are not stunning poetry. Yet the message is there, and on principle, I do agree with it.

Yet I have been thinking about this whole thing. While I agree that life is best lived when we live it to the fullest as often as possible, I have determined that despite what many will tell you, your life has to be of a certain size in order for this to work.

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean you need riches, fame, power, or any such outward accouterments in order to live every moment. The point of this philosophy is in essence the exact opposite; no matter what you find yourself doing, take each second and infuse it with as much life and love as possible, because it could end at anytime. Without fail it will end at some point, at least in this form, regardless.

Yet is this oft cited advice practical? We like to think that even those confined to a bed in a room without a window that get non-medical visitors once a month at best can still jump wholeheartedly into life. I have no doubt that evolved souls in just that type of situation are able to live every moment to the fullest. They are stunning examples of inspiration for the rest of us. I,  however suspect I may require a specific degree of breadth and depth to my life before I can engage in carpe diem.

Furthermore, I find at certain times in my life I am Too XYZ to create that breadth and depth by myself, ex nihilio. Perhaps this is a weakness, or perhaps I am just a little more realistic about living every moment to the fullest. And by realistic I mean that I have no problem confessing that an outside purpose, circumstance or most importantly, human company helps me to more fully engage in existence. I have attempted to force my mind into, "every moment is a miracle" mode when I am alone for long stretches, and to an extent it works. For a while. But after a time, when I am alone, with nothing at all to do but sit, eat,  write,pitch, and edit and read, living every moment seems more of a concept than a practice. Even to an introvert like myself.

Maybe it really is all a matter of expanding my mind enough, or deepening my perceptions enough, I am not sure. It could be that I am revealing I am a lesser person when I state my view that sometimes our lives have to be bigger in order for us to live every moment, and that we don't always have the tools to do that on our own. I can't say for sure. However I do believe that sometimes our lives become too small to allow living in the moment, or for every moment, or as though we had an hour to live. Even if that were a feasible approach, (and I am not sure it is) my ability to initiate that modus operandi without regard to my circumstances is limited at present.

I concur with those who will say I need to expand my thoughts in such a way that my life then becomes big enough to live every moment. That isn't a bad suggestion, but again, is it practical for everyone?

Maybe grabbing life by the collar, (or whatever other damn metaphor you want to utilize for this approach), is only possible once we get passed a certain point. Maybe some of us can't create an entire universe teeming with life with just our own thoughts. Could it be that the point is not so much to live every moment under every circumstance, but rather do whatever we can to make sure we optimize as many moments as we can for each other? Perhaps we need to help enlarge the lives and consciousnesses of others when they are too small for all of this living for the day stuff. Or maybe we only need to do that for less evolved folks such as myself. I really don't have the answer. But I do believe if it were a simple matter of my choosing to do it, I would have done more of it long ago, and far more often.

Do you "live every moment"? If so, what does that entail, exactly? Just how engaged are you with every ticking second? Is "living like you are going to die" a true road map of how you live your life, or is it more of an ideal to which you aspire? Is it always possible to expand your own life enough to live every moment without some outside component brought into the mix?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Planned Spontaneity?

I have a love/hate relationship with spontaneity. 

As a struggling freelance writer, not to mention an introvert, sometimes the formulated, lonesome existence of reading, researching, writing, pitching, corresponding, not getting paid enough becomes monotonous. Numbing. A little spontaneity can breathe life into a day, or a week, or a month. And if I am not careful, I don't allow enough of it in. I admit I may not do enough spontaneous things. Nor am I fortunate enough to have friends who invite me to anything very often, so I have to be spontaneous on my own more often than not. Which isn't easy, and as I said I often don't do it.

Not that I could run off with a group of friends every time they came knocking. But to have at least the chance to say "not today" would do wonders for my sometime need for breaking routine. (To which I sometimes allow myself to be enslaved.) Last minute adventure and/or exploration can be a nice anecdote to drudgery and restlessness. 

But then at times I think about a woman with whom I was in a play once. She told me that she was the type to "move to a whole new city one day with 20 dollars in my pocket, and all of my clothes in the car." 

That is spontaneous. It is also for the birds.

To me, that is uprooting more so than spontaneity and I confess it is an extreme example.  Yet there are more everyday examples of being spontaneous that also put me off of my lunch sometimes. Like when I make time to accept an invitation to a party someone is throwing, and an hour or so after I get there everyone decides they want to go into town and see a movie. Spontaneous, yes, but not appealing to me. In fact, it's annoying. The plan was to have some food and play some games at John's house. I situated my day around that. I prepared my introverted nature for that. Why are we not still doing that?

"You need to be more spontaneous," some people will tell me in response to my reluctance in such scenarios. "You can't plan your whole life out by the hour. Fly by the seat of your pants sometimes! It's what makes life worth living."

Yeah, except I spent half a tank of gas getting here, I've never been to the city you are talking about before, and I have a strong preference for seeing movies alone.

Moments like that would represent the times I hate spontaneity.

Look, I am not an Alpha. I don't need to be in control of everything. Sometimes in fact I can enjoy letting someone else take the reigns while I go along for the ride. But I like to at least know what I am getting into, and if there is a better than average chance that everyone will be doing random stuff every other minute because they can't stay with one thing for long enough to have a single drink, I will probably opt to stay home. Or otherwise prepare myself for a night of flying around constantly. (Which takes more out of me.)

Perhaps in the final analysis that is what bothers me about some versions of being spontaneous; there is no sense of committing to anything. It is one thing to not have every last second planned out in your day. It is entirely something else to feel the need spin around and bounce off of everything like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon. 

It isn't surprising that I prefer what I call "introvert spontaneity". That is to say having an outline of a plan to define the boundaries of an activity or a period of time and then allowing myself to be more random and carefree within same. For some that defeats the whole purpose, but for me it is like writing form poetry vs. free verse. Despite extraordinary pompous conclusions to the contrary, both methods can yield fine poems.  Yet when you need to follow a certain rhyme scheme, meter, and structure, you have to become even more creative than you do when you are can basically write whatever you want all over the page and call it poetry. The required structure helps you focus on what needs to be written, and giving as much life to the words within those borders as possible. Gives it a direction which, despite its freedom, free verse cannot provide. The same can be said for activities.

A road trip is an excellent example. You could just get in your car and drive until you run out of gas. I know people who do it that way, and they certainly find their share of adventure. To me, however, if I say that on Saturday if the weather is nice, I want to find a road trip destination no more than three hours away in any direction, and take two people with me, I can do all kinds of things. Plus I don't have to worry about a billion uncertainties and decisions. I know going in I will not let myself go further away than three hours from home. So there are fewer worries, and more mental energy spent on actually enjoying the trip within the preset boundaries. And within those boundaries, already agreed to, there is room for all kind of spontaneous behavior.

As with most things, it isn't all or nothing for me.

How spontaneous are you? How much do you plan ahead?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11, 2001: My Story

I had no room mate in college, and people on campus rarely ever called me to do anything. Especially not a few minutes after 9:00 AM on a Tuesday. So there would be only three reasons why I would be woken up by a phone call at that hour. Someone punched in a wrong number, my academic advisor needed to ask me something, or it was my mother, and she would have been the least likely of the three possibilities.

I leaped out of the top bunk and rushed to my desk to answer the land line phone. It's a reflex action for me to grab the phone as soon as possible whenever a call wakes me up. I don't know why. The result being that I often answer such calls before my sleepy consciousness has thawed to the world around me. That morning was no different.

"Are you watching the news?"

Mom's voice. She knew I would be asleep at that time. Yet given that Unglebower family business is not generally covered by television news, I at least knew right away that this unusual call was not about my kin in some fashion.

Yet she had asked the question in such a calm manner, I wouldn't have guessed the enormity of what she was about to reveal. I may have even been somewhat annoyed for a moment. It was 9:00AM on a Tuesday and I was asleep. She knew damn well I was not watching the news.

"No, why?"

"You need to turn on CNN or something. Two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, and it looks like some kind of attack."

I stopped moving, but not out of shock or even disbelief. I tend to do that when I want to be certain I am processing important information correctly. I also tend to bend forward just a bit at those times, and I remember doing so then. The phone receiver was in my left hand, and my gaze happened upon my as yet unneeded winter coat hanging in my open closest, as though it had delivered this message to me.

"You mean, like terrorists?"

Mom confirmed it. Not that she had a particular authority to do so. But she explained that she had been watching the Today Show as she got ready for work that morning when what was thought to be a small engine plane had slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She told me that like everyone else, she believed it was a horrible accident. But than the second plane hit the second tower, again as mom was watching, live. That was all she needed to see.

"I debated about calling you earlier," she told me, "When it was just one plane. But just a few minutes ago a second plane hit the second tower, and there is no way this isn't some kind of attack. The news people are saying the same thing."

My mother might have been giving very clear and precise driving directions to a picnic, given her tone. There was no screaming. No crying. This was important I could tell, but hysteria was not her style.

"And they are sure of it?"

Remember I have been awake for 120 seconds at most by this point. I am not as bad as some people are upon getting out of bed in the morning, but consider trying to process this while still blinking sleep out of your eyes and trying to shake the heaviness of semi-consciousness that still drapes around you like a wool blanket even after you have been awake a few minutes. Sometimes understanding that someone is headed to the store, asking you if you want anything is difficult enough at such times, and here my mother was telling me that New York City, the New York City, was under attack.

"Yes, the people I am listening to say there is no way that this could be an accident, it is a terrorist attack."

"Does the president know? What is he doing?"

"The president is in Florida at an event."

It went on like that for maybe ten minutes or so I can't be sure. Speculations, a few sighs, some comments along the lines of "damn" or something to that effect. How at first it was believed to be a small plane, but now both were thought to be passenger jets. 747s. There was actually footage of the second one hitting the second tower, which I would soon see. Each of us advising the other to stay alert. I had my TV on by then, and told Mom to let me know if she heard anything new, and she told me to do the same. We hung up.

We were not off of the phone very long.

I flipped around to various channels to see how they were covering the event. And of course, they all were. I would flip between about 13 channels without stopping, just to see the universal coverage. Events seem more real and more potent, and in this case, more mind-numbing and tragic, when covered by everyone in all of journalism at the same time.

The result was live footage from various angles and perspectives of black smoke billowing out of sickening gaping holes in two of the largest buildings on the planet. Helicopter shots, shots from the ground, shots from adjacent buildings. Looking straight up. Looking down the block. People shouting. Reporters attempting to assimilate the information but clearly being just as clueless as I and my mother were at that point.

Yet the most memorable angle for me during that early coverage were the shots taken from the harbor, or from neighboring New Jersey. Perhaps the most iconic skyline on Earth set against a perfect cloudless blue sky, marred by a huge black plume of smoke. A slithering endless snake that made its way along the top of a postcard image. A thick, vandalizing streak of permanent marker across a masterpiece. I of course had no idea at the time, nobody did, that this image would pale in comparison to footage from the same vantage point less than an hour later, when the skyline itself was no longer visible for the debris cloud.

I had been watching such coverage for just over half an hour. The whole event was not even an hour old. And yet it already felt like the center of the Universe. That the entire country, if not the eyes of all of humanity were looking at the very things I was observing at the time. That a new focal point of existence had been established in our lives, made up of the shots I mentioned, hysterical interviews, wild speculation, fearful rumors, and overall pandemonium both on the ground in New York and in newsrooms everywhere. Nothing short of the alien invasion could possibly wrench our collective attention from New York City, I thought.

I was wrong.

At about 20 of ten, barely 35 minutes since Mom had woken me up, a new report. An explosion, no, another plane. A third plane had smashed into the Pentagon near D.C. Another plane. Even knowing it could be mere speculation, as there had been much of it that morning already, the possibility was more stunning to me than even the sight of the Twin Towers ablaze. Could there be a bigger, louder, and more frightening "fuck you" to American security than to hit the nerve center of the Armed Forces? A building we all felt, as sure as the sun rises, was untouchable?

It was not untouchable, and the story was not rumor. For the first time since the start of this whole affair, live shots pulled away from the nightmare in Manhattan and up came a new image. Not quite as gruesome yet as the shots from the Towers because the view was more obstructed and the surroundings less recognizable. A more distant shot from an unknown vantage point labeled only as "Arlington, Virginia" revealed a wider, not quite as dark collection of smoke, rising more slowly than the mega-plume in New York. From a journalistic standpoint it was not a great shot, to be frank. You couldn't even see the actual Pentagon. To that end the frenzied, rattled journalist, ( I don't recall which one) emphasized that the news of another passenger aircraft flying into the Pentagon was at the moment an unconfirmed report, despite confirmation that several passenger planes had yet to be accounted for by air traffic control.

Yet I knew. And not just on instinct. Living in Central Maryland one gets used to all kinds of live, establishing shots of DC and surrounding areas during local news casts and sporting events and such things. I'm no expert on geography, but I know the area surrounding the Pentagon when I see it. It had been hit. And it felt like a whole new nightmare for any number of reasons.

To begin with, they, whoever the hell they were, had gotten to the headquarters of the most powerful military force the world had ever seen.

Second, it meant that this attack was now on multiple cities. The notion that I would soon be viewing reports of major buildings in dozens of cities across the country being blown up was very real in my mind. The first hint in my mind of a possible guerrilla war on American soil had begun to take root. We still had no clue who these attackers were, but if they could hit New York and D.C. within an hour of each other, who knows what else they could do or would do?

And finally, it was now hitting closer to home for me. My whole life, as I mentioned, I have lived within an hour of D.C., not counting my time at college. The events unfolding in New York were a bit like being knocked in the head. Hitting something as close to DC as nearby Arlington, and the Pentagon no less, was more like a direct hit to the stomach. Or maybe a direct hit to the heart.

Then of course, there was the family angle. My younger sister drove in and around the District for work all the time. Where was she? Her boyfriend of the time did the same. What about him? A brother-in-law of mine, same deal. Were they accounted for?

I picked up the phone and dialed for Mom. Even now I was not in a panic, but the outer reaches of my nervous system and consciousness were starting to initiate crisis management. The department of survival in my mind had not yet been activated, but the lights were on in the building, if you will.

Mom answered. She too was still calm, but I think I could detect a bit more tension in her voice now that the news of the Pentagon had reached her. (She had seen it when I had.) She had not yet heard from my sister, or anyone else, and nobody at that point had cell phones. The consolation was that my sister never had any business in the Pentagon itself, though her boyfriend did. We assumed she was in transit somewhere, and would get to a phone as soon as she could. As would her boyfriend, and my brother-in-law.

Given my propensity for anxiety you would think I would be a wreck at this point, but I wasn't really. There was an unfolding understanding that there may be a sort of danger coming from the horizon, and that I had to be prepared for it, but nothing that had me screaming, crying, or curled up into a ball on the floor. I can't swear I could never be that way, but at that time, I wasn't.

After exchanging notes again, I asked Mom a strange question. I had gotten up to use the bathroom down the hall once during the New York coverage, and everybody's door was shut. I had in fact heard nothing from anyone all morning. Not outside, and not in the hallway. I figured everyone was still asleep, and I hated waking people up. For the New York thing I wasn't going to, but once the Pentagon was hit, and fears of a nationwide attack were becoming more real by the moment, I thought I had to share it with someone in person. I was tired of being seemingly the only person in Marietta, Ohio that had any clue about what was happening.

"Do you think I should wake somebody up," I asked Mom. It was against my nature to intrude on anybody's sleep even then.

"If there were ever a time to do so," she said, "This would be it, I'd say."

After giving Mom firm instructions to call me back as soon as she heard anything from any of our local people, I hung up the phone.

It is so strange to me what I do and do not remember from that day. As I will cover later, there were key moments you would think would be forever branded into my recollection, never to fade for the rest of my life, and yet are fuzzy. Other things about that day that would seem mundane and trivial are in fact the things that might as well have been yesterday, as fresh as they seem. One of those vivid recollections of the mundane was the moment I stepped out into the hallway, intent on waking somebody, anybody up so I didn't have to watch a war break out on American soil alone.

I swung my room door open and stepped into a hallway that in my years at Marietta College had never seemed so damn quiet. The hallway was like a tomb. Bright sunshine came in through the window at the end of the hallway, creating a morning glow reflecting from the off-white cinder block walls. It was almost 10 in the morning now, on a Tuesday. Yet there was not a sound anywhere. Nobody typing. Nobody showering. Nobody on the phone. No stereos. No custodian cleaning up. Nothing happening out in the lobby. I lived in a place called the Arts and Humanities House, so as you can probably guess, rare was the time that nothing was going on. The average weekday at 1:00AM was livelier than the moment I stepped out to be the messenger.

I wondered if I should just stand in the hallway and wake everyone up. Sound a general alarm, as it were. They all deserved to hear it. Everybody in the world needed to hear it. Yet even then I was reluctant to be that much of a pain in the ass, and besides, it would be more about me if I did that, and it should be about the gravity of the situation. So I walked two doors down and on the opposite side of the hall, where my two friends, Joe and Dave lived. With one more look down the silent hallway, (at what, I don't know) I remember rubbing my hands together. I was wondering what would become of all of us, and knowing that I would be the first person either of them ever saw in a world that was now vastly different from the one in which they went to bed the night before.

It was Dave that opened the door. A very tall man you do not want to see angry. Nor do I believe he was angry upon looking down to see me there, but he did seem confused as to why I would be there at that time interrupting his sleep.

"Tytus," he said, half asleep. At least I believe that is what he said. It was his nickname for me.

"I'm sorry to wake you up this early," I said, my hands rubbing together again, "but I had to let someone know."

I did pause for a second, and in that second, Dave nodded. I have never asked him, but I have often wondered if he thought I was about to relate some sort of half-assed personal triumph to him.

"They blew up the Pentagon."

Dave's brow furrowed and he reached for the remote for his television which sat nearby. I continued talking, something to the effect of,

"They don't know who they are, but they also attacked New York about an hour ago. The World Trade Center is on fire."

By this time Joe had sat up in bed in the bottom bunk, but hadn't said anything. I stepped into their still dark room, (the curtains were drawn or something), and continued to relay all the information I had about the situation to them both, which of course was not much. From what I recall, Dave asked most of the questions I was trying to answer. At this point what had still felt somewhat like a dream, or hallucination began to take on a reality. In sharing it with other people who would now experience their own first impressions of this insanity, the final step towards the reality of the situation was complete. It was happening.

The live coverage on Dave's TV I remember happened to be back on New York for the moment, so that was his first glimpse of that. I am sure he said something, but I do not recall what it was. He didn't say much, though. None of the three of us said a whole lot for the next few minutes, other than perhaps a few stray and half-reflexive "shit"s.

My phone rang a few minutes later, and I jogged back to my room to answer it. Mom again. She had somehow hit the jackpot and confirmed that all three of the local people we were concerned about were accounted for. Sis had in fact been driving and heard about the entire thing on the radio. All three were remaining extra vigilant and staying put. Confident in that, but not as relieved as one might expect, I made my way back to Dave's room. It was now only a few minutes before ten o'clock.

It is at this point, during perhaps the most critical, stunning, and important moment in all of the 9/11 attacks that things in my mind seem odd looking back. I say that because on the surface it seems impossible. Yet the facts and the timeline bare it out.

I distinctly remember standing in the middle of Dave's room, still in the dark other than the TV. Joe still sitting up in bed to my right. Dave, remote control in hand to my left, near the door. Why we were in that formation I don't know, but in either case I was straight in front of the TV. And as we watched, the South Tower crumbled into dust. I am thinking it was CNN's coverage.

I did nothing. I said nothing. Truth be told I am pretty sure I felt nothing. Nothing. This is what has sometimes over the years made me question if I actually saw the Tower fall on TV. For surely if I had, surrounded by two of my friends, somebody would have reacted. The people on TV were, that's for sure. Could it be possible that I and two friends of mine could just be standing there, free of hysteria as we watched one of the most recognizable sky scrapers in the world implode in the largest example of carnage ever captured on live video?

Over and over my mind has said no. That I must have not seen it happen live after all. But considering the fact that I had been the one to wake Joe and Dave, and that it was at most 15 minutes later, at 10 o'clock that the first Tower fell and that there was zero chance of my opting to stop watching coverage less than an hour into the event, I have concluded that not only must I have seen the collapse live, but I did in fact see it on Joe and Dave's television, and not reacted. All I can remember thinking was that in the end, it wasn't shocking. Stunning, yes, but the idea of someone trying to blow up those towers at once felt inevitable. And when I saw one collapse, it was almost as though there were no other way it could have gone. I just observed that hell on earth as I would a complicated movie scene. My arms folded standing two feet from a television.

Nor did I hear screams from anywhere else in the building, or nearby dorms, or outside. It was as though we three were the only ones watching this act of utter devastation.

"I'd say at least 30,000 people just died."

Joe. It is the first thing I remember him saying, though he must have been saying something before then. Yet perhaps not. Perhaps he felt a numbness to the moment as I did. I don't know.

"At least," I agreed, with clinical distance. We had no clue of course that the death toll, still horrendous, would end up closer to 3,000.

After that, a vague sliver of memory sometime later of New York Governor George Pataki making a live statement, followed not long afterward by an inside joke made by Joe. A joke at which I laughed, despite what was happening. If that makes me heartless, than I suppose I am heartless. But I wasn't about to ignore one of the few funny things about that day.

Yet would you believe it if I told you that that was the last moment of which I have any clear memory for about an hour?  Again, the things you forget vs the things you remember are mind boggling. For example, I remember no reports of United 93 going down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, though obviously I would have heard them. Nor do I recall watching the second tower fall at around 10:30, about half an hour after the first one, according to the official timeline. I can't remember presidential statements, or the shot of Air Force One leaving Florida, or Gulliani's press conference. I don't remember getting dressed, leaving Dave's room, calling mom again, or much of anything.

The next clear memory I have is a group gathered in the lobby of the dorm. It is a jarring jump cut of a memory review for me. I go from the dark silence of Joe and Dave's room, to the semi-active brightness of the lobby and its old TV set surrounded by at least ten or twelve people, most of whom I knew, some of them foreign exchange students that lived in the dorm, but didn't say much to anyone. When all of these people arrived, and how they entered the narrative, I just don't remember.

There was one girl who lived in the dorm that came in at some point, and I think I remember asking her if she had been watching things. She said she heard something about a plane hitting a skyscraper when she left for morning class, but clearly she had not been aware of what followed. (Was nobody watching, running from class to class talking about this?)

It was CBS news on in the lobby, because I remember it being Dan Rather anchoring the coverage. The more reports of missing planes and burning buildings that came in during the second hour of coverage, the more I thought I should actually plan for escape measures, and self defense. I considered arming myself, though with what I didn't know. But the sense that at any time any of the major city within driving distance, Cleveland, Columbus, Pittsburgh, could be hit next was weighing on my mind now. I was not alone in this. I recall a few rushed conversations with a handful of people about what the best course of action would be if we had to evacuate. At no time during that day or any other day did the campus security make any efforts to inform, calm, or serve the student body.

Not that I believed that terrorists would target Marietta, Ohio per se. Again, it was our proximity to major cities that worried some of us. Then there was the possibility of not an attack, but a guerrilla occupation or something. Keep in mind the idea of American soil being attacked was all new to us, and we didn't know just how many enemies there were, what their plans were and of what they were capable. But they had hit the Pentagon, (now confirmed not to have been destroyed as previously believed), so they seemed capable of anything. Then the possibility that overall pandemonium might overcome ordinary people in town, or even on campus, and spark riots or looting, or who the hell knows what else. So whether it was World War III or civil unrest, I remember calmly packing a bag at one point and having it near the door to my room.

Yet still I felt no panic. Obviously the concern that "this isn't over" began to permeate throughout the dorm and in my inner circle. There were still planes unaccounted for. But I never felt a sense of urgency until I heard Dan Rather say, "There are unconfirmed reports that another plane may be on the way to Camp David, the presidential retreat." At that point I was in the lobby with the rest of the gathering group, and I will confess to running back to my room to grab the phone and call mom again. Camp David is in Thurmont, Maryland, the northernmost part of my very own county, Frederick County, Maryland. If a plane was heading for Thurmont, and the controls were jostled or the calculations were off by just a fraction, a plane of that size at that height, going that speed could easily end up in the middle of far more populous Frederick, Maryland where I and family spent much time. Or, the back yards of half my family members.

"I'm keeping my eyes open," Mom told me, having not heard that particular report. She assured me that everyone else back home was on extra alert, and advised me once again to be on the same. I shared with her about having an escape plan, packing a bag, and maybe arming. Not one to sensationalize anything, Mom confirmed the gravity of the situation again by expressing agreement with my preparations.

The report turned out to be false, and no plane was headed towards Camp David. All other planes were being slowly accounted for, because, the news was reporting, the FAA had shut down all air traffic in the United States. That was one of the most stunning things about the whole day other than the loss of life. Until that point I didn't know anybody anywhere had the power to ground each and every flight in the entire enormity of this country. Yet they did, and that is what happened. The idea that nothing would be flying anywhere in the country, except military and rescue aircraft as needed, amazed me. (The following night, I did see a single small plane fly across the night sky while I was up on the roof of my dorm. I assume it had clearance, but it was strange to see just the one plane for a week.)

News of the universal grounding of American flights was the last bit of live information I clearly remember seeing on 9/11. I, like most, spent a great deal of time in front of the TV for the rest of the day, and the rest of the week, but I don't remember much of that. I do remember at last being stunned by footage; later in the evening the ground level shot of the second plane just vanishing into the South Tower was released, and that did jolt my stomach a bit.

Still on the alert, but feeling more with each passing hour that no further attacks were imminent, I went for a walk on the mall on campus that day. I don't remember what time of day it was, only that it was mid-afternoon. It was the first time I had left the dorm all day. It is a jarring irony that it was one of the top five most gorgeous days I have ever experienced, before or since. It was about 70 degrees. The sky, without a cloud in sight was a shade of blue I didn't even know the sky could be, so dazzling and deep was it. A perfect breeze was blowing, rustling the first stirrings of autumn leaves along the ground, as well as the American flag on the pole in the middle of the mall. If we get to pick the weather in our heaven, I'd use that day as one of my reference points.

Marietta College was a bit of a party school when I went there, and was never known for its stoicism.  Yet during that walk there was a reserved quality to the campus. There were students out and about, some going to class, (though I didn't), some on other business. If I had to encapsulate what the feeling of campus was as whole at that point, the best I could come up with would be, "What?"

Not, "What the hell," or "What's happening," or "What are we going to do?" Not even the often used improper punctuation of  "What???" covered it. Simply, "What?" A pervasive, collective bewilderment hung in that perfect early autumn air.

Over the next few days and weeks, there were student run charity drives for victims, dedications by the college choir, candlelight vigils, and any manner of early healing and commemoration on campus and around the world. There were presidential addresses, cautious and nervous late night talk show hosts returning for "duty", and calls for revenge. I participated in some of those things, avoided others. I have positive thoughts about certain aspects of the post attack time frame, and negative thoughts about other aspects, both in the immediate aftermath, and since. Those could fill an entire book. They have filled many books in the last ten years, and will continue to fill books probably as long as this country exists, and even afterwards.

Yet the purpose of this post is not to share my dissatisfaction with the way things were handled by those in authority over this country as well as the way the events described here have been used in foul ways to do foul things. The purpose of this post was to at long last add myself to the national narrative. I have not avoided it until now, but I have not delved into it much either. Not out of shock, and not out of fear. But because it is my nature to move forward when possible.

Remember, but not relive, is my motto. The problem with much of the memorials, and TV shows, and books, and speeches, and expectations of society, and "as it happened" coverage every year on the anniversary is to me reliving. And while I don't believe in making that a habit, this ten year anniversary seemed at last the proper time to, as a writer set down in words the minuscule dot that I myself posses in the tapestry of stories that was born out of the epic tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seven Things a Guaranteed Success Wouldn't Care About

Rejection and Failure
If it didn't at all bother us to look stupid, to not accomplish what we set out to do, or to be told we were not good enough for that play, that magazine, that girlfriend, we'd have just as much energy to invest in the 500th attempt at something as we did for the first or second attempt. And with nothing to make us even a bit reluctant, we could get to attempt number 500 in half the time as it would take when we need to pause for a while and recover from the failure.

How Long Something Takes
This is a cousin to rejection and failure, but need not include either one. Sometimes we know that a specific undertaking will be time consuming right from the start. Even as small success is made ever so often, and we have not had particular obstacles thrown in our way, the nature of a mission, goal, or assignment requires so much of our present and our future that the sheer size of the time investment can freeze us, or make us abandon it right away. But if we never cared for a even a moment about how long it took to accomplish something important, even if it took 25 years, we'd be more inclined to take more journeys towards more destinations.

The Status Quo
I myself am already quite well positioned to not give a damn about this one. I am after all, Too XYZ for most conventions. My success has not been anything near where I want it to be in most aspects of my life, and that may or may not be because of the select places wherein I do let convention, have too much influence over what I say and do. But when when we go forward with an idea with not even the slightest consideration for how well it may fit in with what everyone else is doing and has done for decades or centuries, our focus can be 100% dedicated to realizing what we have set out to do, and 0% of our energies are lost to determining how to adjust it to outside expectations.

The Presence of People in Your Life
I have often written of introverts, and by extension have commented on extroverts. How the former sometimes wants nothing more than to be left alone when crowded, and how the latter wants nothing more than to be surrounded by lots of people when left alone. (Except of course, when the opposite is true.) But what if, whether introvert or extrovert you didn't much care one way or the other about who was or was not around for the lion's share of your time? House full of people? Fine. Haven't seen a soul in weeks? Fine. To put it another way, imagine if your own sense of happiness, value and enjoyment remained unchanged by who did or did not come to visit you? Was a constant even in the midst of guests? Sustainable through outward abandonment by friends? It would mean that your entire perception of yourself, and hence your dedication to what is important to you would not in the slightest way be determined by the thoughtfulness of others. The decisions, (often cold, thoughtless and random) to come in and out of your life would have no bearing on same. That's a freedom most people can only imagine.

Sleeping Conditions
One of the things I most envy in any person is not their talent, or their looks, or their money. Those are all sometimes a strong second place, but in truth, I would rather be able to so as a few people I know can do and just "decide" to sleep. My father it seems was one of these people, as are a few of my friends. They find a bed, couch, cot, or if needs be a bathtub, fold their arms, close their eyes and are asleep for the night. I shit you not. Maybe there is a party going on. Maybe a freight train goes by every hour. Barking dog. Could be pitch black or maybe a neon sign from the strip club across the street blinks into the room for the duration of the nighttime hours. It just doesn't matter to such people. When it is time to sleep, they do it.

Imagine the power and convenience of this. You could go on any trip, find yourself in any circumstance, be spontaneous and go an on adventure, or your presence could be required somewhere odd in the case of some kind of emergency. And when the time allowed and you made the choice, you could lie down and decide it was time to sleep, without caring where you are or what was going on. You could recharge your body and mind nearly at will, and be ready to go full blast the following morning, no matter what. It sounds like a minor thing, but imagine the near infinite flexibility of a life wherein you could get the sleep you needed no matter what.

Where You Live
Not unrelated to, but more important than not caring where you sleep is not caring where you live. You will of course do a lot of sleeping where you live, but you will also do a lot of the other mundane everyday things at home. A lot of time, thought an heartache is put into where one should live. (As someone who is hoping to move to another apartment before the end of the year, I am well aware of this.) But supposing you had no living preferences? You could feel at home anywhere outside of a battle zone. (Desert, urban, or otherwise.) You could go where you could afford to go. Whatever was open and available, you'd take. No view? No problem? Third floor, eighth floor, dirt floor, it would all be the same to you.

The ability to imbue any domicile with the trappings and spirit of "home" is indicative of someone who can create their own atmosphere, or more accurately carries one with them wherever they go. Someone such as this would never be homesick, never long to return to someplace they left, and could more quickly feel a part of whatever community in which they found themselves. In so doing they would be able to mine the benefits of blending in far easier than others.

Yes. It is now time for the irony portion of our program today. But consider what sort of freedom one might gain if they were not so much concerned about whether or not they are a success. And I do not just mean financial matters. Imagine someone who could care less if they are seen as a thought leader, spiritual guru, social commentator, or famous anything. What if someone were to be concerns only with being kind, and feeling warmth? not from other people, because that would dip into the previous category of not giving a damn about the company you keep. But warmth of spirit.

Suppose that someone cared only for increasing the amount of light in the world, whether or not it got them a job? What if a person could live in a homeless shelter, or in the proverbial "mother's basement" and gave not a second thought to whether or not his friends, potential mates, society, a particular church, or the blogosphere considered him a success? Would that person not eventually be free to spend his time however he damn well pleased, with whomever the hell he wanted, without having to worry about personal brands, rate races, nailing the interview, pitching the article, or any of that damn noise that keeps most of us up at nights? Would they night eventually find themselves in a place that also valued such an approach, surrounded by like minded people? And what is success but the ability to improve both one's life and somehow the lives of others or even the world through the use of one's unique powers and talents? Success would come to someone who didn't care to look for it.


In conclusion, a person who could pay no attention at any time to all seven of these things would, I feel, be nearly bullet proof. I don't think such a person exists as a whole. I am certainly not he, as I can lay claim to apathy for only a portion of what I describe here. I imagine that would be true for most people, as many of these things are very seductive, prevalent, and possibly genetic. Yet as I have thought about it I have determined that although no one person may fit the bill entirely, each person is in fact made better if they can find a way not to care at all about at least one or two of these. If you can do that, you are still far ahead of most people in the Western World, who eat sleep, breath and piss all seven of these things.

Did I miss anything? What would you add to the list?