Twenty Years Later

It’s been twenty years since that beautiful, sunny Tuesday morning.

I was at work yesterday, talking to a coworker who was in elementary school when it happened, and then talking to another coworker who hadn’t even been born when it happened, about the day. Thursday evening, I’d watched the History Channel documentary series Road to 9/11 and in the watching, realized two things.

First, that I did work with a lot of people that either hadn’t been born yet or were too young to remember that day.

Second, that twenty years later, I am still processing the trauma.

I could talk about how I still remember more than a few details of that day, how I remember skidding out on my bike that morning in the Arboretum at GVSU and scaring the crap out of some fraternity pledges because I’d gone in and hadn’t come out. How someone in an IRC chat told me to turn on the TV, that I’d returned that favor by calling friends in another dorm and telling them to do the same–and finding myself on the phone with one of them, watching in tandem, as the second plane hit. The Classics department and my Latin professor found out from me what was happening. Staff clustered around every TV they could find and connect to cable or catch the news on–because this was 2001, in the days before phones were smart and before there were TVs everywhere on a college campus, the days before social media.

The trauma was collective, and only grew as word spread.

I don’t remember how many people in that Latin class that morning hadn’t heard yet, but I know I wasn’t the only one who did know. Class lasted for ten minutes. One of the guys ended up joining the service–I’m not sure which one. I never saw him again after that semester.

One sunny Tuesday morning shifted the trajectory of my adulthood and the adulthood of all of my friends, all of my peers. It changed what our tomorrows would hold and altered our futures in ways that we could only imagine. My cousin was in the Air Force at the time, and I can remember worrying about her a lot. As the years went on, several friends ended up in various branches of the armed forces. Several served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don’t know if I would have worried as much if the attacks hadn’t happened.

My mom had the option of puling my youngest siblings out of school that morning before Troy locked down the buildings. She’d been at my elementary school when it happened; she had warning that she could take them if she wanted to. She had been there to do something that morning and she and the front office staff had been watching what was happening in New York on television when the word came. She let my siblings stay with their friends, because she knew. She knew they would need that. I remember talking to my best friend that day–she’d graduated the year before; her brother was locked down at the high school and her parents were locked down at the Renaissance Center in Detroit, where they worked. I don’t remember what I told her. I don’t remember talking to my brother about any of this. He was a senior in high school–his life, and the lives of al of his peers, was altered, too, in ways as profound if not more profound than it was for my friends and I.

We are all still processing the trauma.

8:46am.

Twenty years later.

Editing copy – Lost and Found

330 pages, about 91500 words.
12 point font, double spaced, 1 inch margins

Edits and changes got lighter the deeper into the draft I got.

No, I did not do all of the edits in one sitting.

Back to it…

UNSETIC Files: Lost and Found editing resumes. This is round one, back after a long break. Chapter 27 of 40.

Review: A Furious Sky

I have a thing for learning about natural disasters. It’s something that I’ve discovered about myself over the years–there is something about the whole man versus nature and the events surrounding these experiences that is fascinating to me. As a result of this interest, I picked up A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred Year History of America’s Hurricanes on Audible during one of their two-for-one sales and gave it a listen.

I got through the book in only a few stretches of time and probably could have listened to the whole thing in a day if I’d had the 10+ hours where I didn’t need to engage with other people beyond the perfunctory. On the audio end of it, it was well-produced and the narrator was very good with the material that he was presenting.

The actual content of the book, for me, was largely familiar territory, though there were some segments of the book that were new material for me. For those who have read or seen documentaries about the Galveston Hurricane, the Labor Day Hurricane, or the Long Island Express, these sections of the book will be very familiar and tell stories that you’ve heard before with very little variation from previous works. If you don’t know much–or anything at all–about these events, though, they offer a striking window into what the experiences of these storms were like. Information about some of the earliest recorded storms was very interesting, and the storms discussed in the mid- to late-twentieth century and beyond offered glimpses into these storms that went beyond the headlines and weather reports.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the coverage of how the science of hurricane prediction and the technology involved has evolved over time and continues to evolve. If anything, the book was a worthwhile listen for this information alone. The author, Eric Jay Dolin, is a scholar himself and has synthesized a lot of information into a (relatively) short piece on the subject.

All in all, a worthwhile listen. Definitely recommended to anyone with even a passing interest in the weather–and looking for a slightly heavier but still completely accessible beach read.

Because pens?

I wasn’t actually intending to write this, but I’ve been going on and on about this pen and ink for at least two hours, so I figured maybe it was something that was worth writing a little bit about here–in part because I am at least at the moment mildly obsessed.

So, here’s the story.

For the last few weeks as I’ve been browsing Facebook, I’ve been seeing ads for a fountain pen subscription service. Now let’s be honest, Facebook doesn’t always have the best algorithm when it comes to me, but I kept tripping over this ad enough to be at least a little intrigued. So I clicked, I looked, and got a little curious. This particular company (Truphae, for those curious) is a business that apparently started from the husband’s fascination with fountain pens and he and his wife leveraged it into a really neat business model. They’ve got a few levels on their subscription boxes. On that initial visit, I browsed the site, was like ‘huh, that’s cool,’ and moved on, not ready to take the plunge yet.

Then, last week, I happened to see the ad again. They were running a special on the subscription service so I was finally “well, why not?” and took the plunge. The option I picked includes a budget-level fountain pen and a full pot of ink. What’s the harm, right? I wasn’t sure exactly what I’d get but it was worth a try for a couple months to see how I felt about it.Holy crap, let me tell you, this was better than I expected on so many levels.

When you hear “budget fountain pen” I’m sure you’re thinking like I did: “something super lightweight and super inexpensive as fountain pens go.” Well, the last part was fairly on point (the pen I got in my box retails under $25 most places as a basic cartridge pen, anyway – this one is modified so you can easily refill it from ink bottles) but the quality on this pen is much more than I expected. The casing is all metal and it’s a heavy pen–heavy to the point that I set the cap aside when I’m using it instead of letting it perch on the back of the pen like you usually would. It was extremely easy to fill (after a couple of YouTube tutorials for a fountain pen beginning like me – all of my previous fountain pens have been cartridge pens which are also great) and writes beautifully.

Then there’s the ink. The ink pot I got is a pretty big (60ml) and the color is beautiful. I love colored inks–looking at my notebooks and planners definitely bears this out. It retails for about $15 across the board at that size and my biggest problem right now is figuring out where I’m going to store the bottle safely because it is definitely still full even after filling the pen. It’s definitely a green ink (looks very dark in the bottle – you can only tell what color it really is around the edges of it) but once it’s down on paper it’s this beautiful green with a blue undertone to it. I am admittedly in love and am really, really excited to see what my box next month brings me. I can’t seem to stop using this pen and ink.

Guess we’ll see what happens…

Three books to help you understand right now

I promised this year some book recommendations as part of my little blogging experiment, but I’m going to apologize in advance: a lot of what I read (and, in some cases, listen to) aren’t exactly cheerful, but they definitely end up being incredibly informative on a lot of levels. I’ve decided to start with the three books below because in many, many ways they help to frame the situation that we are currently living in today–in the case of one of them, have been living in since at least 2016 and in the case of the other two, since roughly March of 2020. If you prefer listening to these books rather than reading them, all are available via Audible and the voice performance on each is excellent.

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

How Democracies Die is one of those books that I have not stopped recommending to people since I read it. Coincidentally, I read it as part of a political science class focusing on democracy and authoritarianism and the discussions my class had regarding this book were probably as good as the book itself was (which speaks highly of the quality of conversation that we had in the class). Levitsky and Ziblatt are political scientists who have written academically on competitive authoritarian regimes and the trajectory of governments in Latin America and the post-Soviet bloc, so they definitely know what they’re talking about as they approach the question of democracy–in this case, the threats faced by purportedly strong democracies like the United States, which is their primary focus for this work. They take time to explain the norms and practices of democracy in the United States, describing the “guardrails” of governance and the changes over time within American government. While some of the suggestions they’ve made at the end of the book do not seem to be as possible as they might have been when the book was released three years ago (January 2018), the book is chock full of explanations of how we got to where we’re at and insights onto how to fix at least some of the problems we’re facing.

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney

This is one of two books on the 1918 flu that I’ve listened to recently–coincidentally, the second book I started listening to on the subject and the first one that I finished. Because the 1918 flu is a research interest of mine, I had actually consumed this book well before the pandemic began, then returned to it this summer for a second time through. Pale Rider is extremely accessible for those who are maybe not as fascinated by the historical minutia of how the state of medicine changed in the early twentieth century, offering up the various theories on where the flu started, how it spread, why it came to be called “the Spanish Flu,” and how it affected ordinary people. It gives an incredible overview on the subject and represents an excellent entry-level book to the subject.

The Great Influenza by John M. Barry

In contrast to Pale Rider, The Great Influenza offers a much deeper dive into the history of medicine in the early twentieth century, the science behind combatting the 1918 flu, and how the flu not only reshaped society, but reshaped medicine, especially in the United States. Barry has been in the news on and off throughout the COVID-19 pandemic (I remember reading a few articles he wrote for the Washington Post on the subject throughout 2020) because of his expertise. The Great Influenza is definitely a much thicker, more academic tome than Pale Rider, but it is just as fascinating, if not moreso. The information it provides, too, offers insights into the current behavior of a lot of people in the United States currently suffering major pandemic fatigue–and explains why so many have wanted to deny the severity of the illness in the first place.

All three of the above books offer insights into where we’ve been in the past year. I didn’t find them too depressing–the latter two were much more fascinating than depressing, but I also read both before the pandemic actually started. None of them are necessarily for the faint of heart, but I would suggest that all three are essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the functioning of American democracy vis-a-vis competitive authoritarian regimes or about the 1918 flu.

This is 2021

Well, we are now exactly a week into 2021 and…it’s already been a trip, hasn’t it? We’re still wrestling with a public health crisis that’s not going away anytime soon, still dealing with vaccination shortfalls and supply issues, and just this Wednesday, supporters of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named stormed the Capitol with the intent of a) preventing the certification of the legitimate election of Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris as president and vice president respectively and b) taking over the government in order to ensure the continued power of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I have a lot of thoughts on this, but that’s going to be saved for another blog. Probably.

As of this writing, I am eleven days out from the beginning of my last undergraduate semester for my second bachelor’s degree. Hopefully within the next six weeks I will know where I am going to graduate school (people keep telling me that I am going to get in and I am not up to 100% believing them in case my hopes are dashed). Applied for four doctoral programs, all in the Chicago area, for those who are curious.

Going into this year, I’d decided to diversify my activities just a little bit. I’ve been pondering podcasts for over a year now and I believe there are at least two that will be in the offing hopefully by June (but let’s not jinx myself and promise them by then). The first of these is Fictionalize This! which will present bites of historical, scientific, or other interesting information with the challenge to listeners who are so inclined to figure out how to use that to inspire their fiction. The second idea is actually the one that I will probably end up launching first is Wait, THAT Was News? which will examine and contextualize old newspaper articles because old newspaper articles are wild. If you’ve never read any, you’re in for a treat.

This is, of course, in addition to all of the writing I do–both fictional work and academic. Expect to see more of that from me this year, and also expect (again, hopefully by summer) the release of the next UNSETIC Files book, Lost and Found. It’s still in the editing stages, but that should be done in the next few months. Last year for Christmas my brother and sister-in-law got me some awesome editing pencils and I have very much enjoyed using them in my editing processes. I also hope to have another Awakenings edited book out by the end of the year, but that is a bit more of an arduous process given its very nature.

Expect to see more essays, more fiction, and more thoughts this year, regardless.

Welcome to 2021. Let’s hope that, at the very least, this year is different from the last.