26 September 2011

Am I Halfway Yet?

I don't really understand this new blogger format and it's been fucking with my writing and posts.  This type looks too small, but the next size looks too big.  It also keeps putting super sized breaks between lines which is annoying as fuck.  Jesus.  Between blogger and facebook some bunch of engineering idiots need to just leave the shit alone and go do something better with their time.  Like discovering new no carbon energy sources or something.  Maybe what I should do is write everything first and then change the type second.  Anyway, this is all besides the point.

Life has been very busy lately.  Far businer than it has any business being.  It's mostly all good stuff, but it's ridiculous.  I wrote about going camping.  I wrote about September 11th.  So now it's the 26th.  Since my last post I have been to Italy to present a paper at a conference, I have been to Oxford to present a poster at a conference.  I have been back and forth to Cambridge on a single day to meet with three new students that I am Director of Studies for.  I have had my friend S from Africa visiting for a week so have been going out for some very social dinners.  I had another colleague from Cambridge stay over.  I met up with an ex colleague from Baltimore for dinner.  I had two more research interviews which involved my traveling around London.  I think that might be everything.  It probably isn't.

I've been very stressed but managing it reasonably well.  I still have a lot to do however.  This is why I wonder at what point I am in this work-load continuum.  I am chairing a meeting tomorrow at which I am also making a short presentation about my work.  I need to write a first draft of another conference paper hopefully by the end of this week.  I need to follow up with my research interviews that I have not yet had yet and I need to follow up with the ones I just had and said I would follow up with.  I need to chase my industrial partner for their feedback on the latest 'Think Piece'.  I need to chase my fellow PhD A for his contributions to the second research paper so I can do my part of that as well.  There is other stuff to do as well like figure out where the hell I misplaced my ticket and fine receipt for not having my student card on me on the train to Gatwick, write some new blog posts for the other blog which are now stacking up, and also do my taxes for last year.  I should do this one in particular- they owe me money back.

I think I am managing all of this alright because a lot of it is fun mixed up with all the shit I 'have' to do and is therefore less fun.  I am enjoying seeing people and going out and doing things.  But it is tiring.  I figure my current level of effort and energy is going to be required through about mid November.  At which point I'll have about two weeks of rest before I go to the States.  Fucking hell.

Still, I'm not really complaining.  It is mostly good stuff.  There is some petty bullshit going on- particularly surrounding my supervisor.  But this seems to be impacting me slightly less personally at the moment so I'm trying to keep it all that way.

I suppose the only other thing that I need to try and do is to keep on getting out there on the dating scene.  I had one date as well in the past couple of weeks, but nothing came of it.  No biggie.  Now, back to work!

11 September 2011


I feel uneasy about memorials.  In particular I feel uneasy when people are swept up with grief that is not their own. When they seem to almost prey on and amplify the true grief of others.  Does it help?  I think sometimes I find it vulgar.  But grief does need to be expressed and shared.  I guess I just think it's important to try and remember your place in it.  Even within overwhelming grief, you still have a place.  It helps to ground you.  Give you strength.  Helps you bear it.

Significantly to me however, if you don't belong in the center of it, you really just shouldn't be there.  I don't belong in the center of any grief or memorials about 9/11.  It was a horrible day which turned into a terrible week which led to a disastrous war and helped to continue to divide a country that was already divided, even when everyone spoke of unity. 

I was far away from anything significant on the day itself.  I was in St. Louis.  I remember waking up to my radio alarm.  I remember distinctly that Molly Ivins had a piece on NPR which was hilarious and poked fun and George W.  I remember thinking that I was going to have to find it online to play for people later.

It wasn't a great day for me to start out with.  I had a flight scheduled for that afternoon.  My design studio was going to fly to London to look at some projects and have various lectures and things.  I was feeling very nervous about the flight- like I always do.  It had been many years since I had done such a long flight.  I had already been to the doctors and gotten sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication.  I was just in the process of having my phobia properly diagnosed and the symptoms treated.  It wasn't a good day for me.

I remember I got a phone call.  It was probably around 8 my time, 9 east coast time.  It was my friend JF.  It was unusual for him to be calling me.  He practically begged me not to turn on the news that day.  I understood his concern instantly as most of my friends are aware of my phobia.  "There's been a plane crash."  I said to him, it wasn't really a question because I knew there was no other reason for the warning on that day.  He admitted there was.  I told him there was no way I would be able not to look at the news.  He told me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Towers.  I didn't understand.  I told him I had to go, I turned on the news.

I hitting the first tower.  How it came at it with speed and seemed to just be absorbed by the building.  First there was a plane, and then there just wasn't.  It didn't seem possible.  And somehow the building was still standing.  No one knew what was going on.  I can't remember if a second plane hit the second tower before I left to go to class.  See, I had a 9am class to get to.  It didn't seem real.  My mom lives in Brooklyn but she works from home.  I figured she was fine.  I went to school.

I got to class.  Most people just rolled out of bed and dragged themselves to class.  Not morning people, most people had not looked at any news.  Cell phones were still 'special' and not as commonly used as they are now.  I know I didn't have one.  Anyway, the phone lines went all funny that day.  It was hard to reach people.  I remember going to class in a daze.  To be honest, I was mostly thinking about my flight later.  About the rising panic I felt.  I got to class and asked some people if they had seen the news.  No one had.  Maybe someone said they thought they heard something.  The professor came.  We had class.

By the time we got out of class the world had changed.  No one thought to stop the class.  No one knew anything until we left the classroom.  The halls were in chaos.  The Associate Dean was standing in the central hall at the crossroads of the entrances to the building and trying to tell people that classes were cancelled, that counseling and assistance were available.  That more information would be available as it was known.  I bypassed this madness and made my way to my friend who was the Associate Dean's PA.  At this point, I was about to have a phobic breakdown about my flight.  I didn't see how it was possible that I could get on a flight later.  I was verging on hysterical.  I heard something about planes crashing in DC- into the Pentagon.  I thought I was going to lose it completely.  I found S.  I was crying.  I was terrified.  She assured me that there was no way our flight was leaving later.  She said all flights were grounded.  She updated me as to what had happened.  Had the towers fallen by then?  There was a television set up.  All of the news stations just kept cycling through the only images they had.  I stayed there with her for a while.  At some point I realized I had to call my parents.  Classes were cancelled.  Flights were cancelled.  I didn't know what to do.  I think I went home.

I managed to call my mother.  She was fine and at home but frightened and manic.  Her type of panic is the kind I don't like.  She takes it all in.  She makes it about her.  I couldn't keep talking to her because it was going to make me angry.  I was happy that she was safe.  I think I called my dad.  Or maybe he called me.  He was also fine.  He doesn't live far from the Pentagon at all.  He heard the plane and possibly the explosion.  He said you could tell something was wrong.  It was too loud, it was too low.  But he was safe.

Like I said, phone lines went funny.  It was hard to get in touch with people.  No one knew what to do.  I think I was at home.  I don't even remember.  Just watching the news.  Waiting for scraps of any new information.  Horrified by all the new images that would come out in a steady trickle.  Feeling impotent and useless, not knowing at all what to do with the scale of the horror presented to me, but knowing that I was safe.  Although at that time, no one was sure that they were safe.  You had no clue if something else big was about to happen.

We all know what happened.  Three weeks later I did fly to London.  That was weird.  But by then everything had changed.  We had learned what had happened.  We were learning how to move on.  Of course being from NYC, I was worried that I might know someone.  Many people I know have stories that are far more graphic and frightening.  But my personal link to the tragedy was not one that I expected.  It turns out that the person I knew who died in the towers was not someone I knew from NY but rather someone I knew from the University of Virginia.  Douglas Ketcham  I don't remember how I found out that he had been a victim of the attacks.  Probably from E.  And then I felt bad because Doug and I had never been close.  I knew him but I didn't.  Part of me wished that I had somehow done more to be a better friend, knowing what would befall him later.  But you can't change the past.

But it's weird.  I remember Doug and Matt joining my portal at Monroe Hill (a residential college we all lived in).  Doug and Matt were a funny pair.  They were friends from before.  Both deeply religious.  I can't say I understood them all that well.  They both ended up pledging at my service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega.  So Doug was my brother.  We must have worked side by side on many a Saturday morning.  We would have attended many meetings together on Wednesday nights and clasped hands and sang of brotherhood.  I remember that they use to play card games down in his and Matt's rooms.  I was down there a few times.  Not many.  The truth is, I didn't know him well.  We never bonded.  I interacted with him probably on a daily basis for one year- or was it two?  But all he ever was to me was an acquaintance, not really a friend.

But he was real and there and I know that he had very good friends amongst my friends.  He was a living breathing person with his whole life ahead of him.  And then he got lost in a national tragedy, with so many others.

So ten years have passed and life moves on.  I've been to visit the WTC site.  It looks so small in some ways.  It's hard to remember the buildings that were once there- how did their enormity fit in such a small space?  I remember eating at Windows on the World with my mother and my aunt.  I remember looking down on the city from the restaurant.  That helicopters flew beneath us.  It reminds me that my aunt died before 9/11 ever happened.  That tragedy- personal tragedy- happens every day in every way to many people.  That the grief of a nation is just the same as the grief of a mother or sister or a niece.  It doesn't negate personal grief or loss.  I don't know how those people feel whose grief has been 'taken' by a nation.  Do they resent it?  Do they struggle to move on?  It's hard enough to move on under normal circumstances.  In a very Jewish way, my grief is much more for those who are left behind.  For those whose lives have been irreversibly altered.  Who have not been able to move forward from this moment.

I am glad I am not in America today.  I would struggle with the overwhelming packaged grief that will be foisted on every person in the country.  But I am sad that I am not in America today.  Because I am an American and my countries mourning, is also my own.  So I will mourn in my own private way.  It's impossible to ever forget such a day or such a thing.  And that is just for me- someone who was far away, and who was barely touched personally.  It's still terrible.  Senseless.  Horrifying.  I don't need video replay to remind me.  I don't need all the moments of silence or the names being read out.  How can anyone possibly forget such a thing?  But I do think it's important to remember who your grief is for.  And your place in it.

Or at any rate, that's my way of dealing with it.