Twenty-One Septembers Later

The anniversary is old enough to drink.

That was the absurd realization I had on Friday, thinking about this weekend, remembering again that the weekend was the anniversary of the day.

The anniversary is old enough to drink.

An entire generation of adults have been born since that September Tuesday that should have been as normal as any other. It was bright and beautiful with just a hint of crispness that you sometimes get in early September. I was a college sophomore at Grand Valley State, two months out from my nineteenth birthday. I’d taken a bike ride in the hopes it would help my developing head cold and returned after my roommate was gone for class.

Someone in an IRC chat told me to turn on the television because a plane at hit the towers. I thought he was joking, but after he said it again, I turned on the Today show, thinking that it couldn’t be anything major. I remember watching the anchors be as confused as I was.

I called friends, told them to turn on the TV.

I was one the phone with one when the second plane hit and all of a sudden, you knew.

This anniversary is old enough to drink.

There are more than a few children that have been born to parents who weren’t even born to a world where the towers stood at the edge of Manhattan. I don’t know that it will never not be surreal to think about that.

The university didn’t cancel classes. Individual professors did. Perhaps by the evening classes, the university had shut them down, but I don’t remember that. I only know that all of my classes would have happened if not for professors cancelling them.

The Classics department found out what was happening from me. My Latin professor found out from me. My anthropology professor cancelled class because he and his wife—another professor, my advisor at the time—were trying to figure out where her sister was.

She worked at the Trade Center.

She was okay.

Back then, my dad traveled extensively for work. California was not an unusual destination.

I didn’t know where my dad was.

This was a time before most of us had cell phones. I called my mom long-distance with a phone card.

Where’s Dad?

Safe. He wasn’t on those flights.

Dad was already in California. He ended up staying longer than anticipated because he couldn’t get a flight out. We all forget about that, I think, how long air traffic was shut down.

Shut down for good reason.

My cousin was in the Air Force at the time. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t have her parents’ number.

I called my grandparents to get it. I had three younger siblings. I didn’t want to tie up my mom’s phone line, just in case.

My cousin was okay—and told us a story a long while later about something that happened later that day, at the SAC base in Omaha where she’d been stationed.

My brother was a senior in high school. My sister was in elementary school. I struggle to remember what grade my baby brother was in, but he must have been in elementary school, too, because he would graduate high school eleven years later. For some reason, thinking about it, the story my mom tells about the day centers on my sister.

They stayed at school.

My mom could have pulled them out—she’d been at the elementary school when it all happened and later when word came down and the district was deciding to lock down. The office staff told her that if she didn’t want to get stuck there, she needed to go, but she could pull my siblings if she wanted.

She said no, let them stay, let them be with their friends.

We were all with our friends.

This anniversary is old enough to drink.

Most of my generation wasn’t when the world was reshaped. A bare handful of American millennials were able to drink when 9/11 happened, when the towers fell, when the Pentagon was hit, when a plane was forced down over a Pennsylvania field.

It was not the world that was expected. It was the world we got. We were supposed to have peace and prosperity and flying cars and, to quote Fukuyama, an “end of history.” (Not that I’ve ever bought his thesis there)

Instead, twenty years of war and a generation lost. Innocence lost. Nothing is as we expected. Nothing is as was hoped for by our parents, or their parents, for their children and grandchildren.

We remember and mourn not only those who were lost and what was lost, but what might have been. There has been good. There has been bad.

There’s been a lot.

Twenty-one Septembers later, this anniversary is old enough to drink.

It is not an anniversary we ever wanted, but it’s the one we get.

Twenty-one Septembers later, this anniversary is old enough to drink.

On nerd love and challenges

I’d meant to write this post yesterday, but instead here I am, in the post-Kenobi glow, writing it at 6:30 in the morning, halfway through a cup of coffee, listening to birds outside, the traffic on 4 Mile and Alpine, and the morning news. After two days of unseasonable heat, the weather’s broken and if I had the wherewithal, I could clean my patio table and chair and work outside for a bit this morning.

It is wherewithal that I do not think I possess this morning, nor would my cats appreciate it very much, since they’ve grown very used to cuddling me while I work.

None of this is what I intended to write about today, of course.
Anyone who has known me for any span of time knows that I am, at least on some level, a nerd, a geeky girl, however you’d like to describe it. I came to it early (thanks Mom, for some long-forgotten day when there was a Star Trek: The Next Generation marathon on TV and you were doing my hair for something—I don’t know what it was, but it was at the old house and I remember it) and it kind of evolved from there. Star Trek was definitely my first nerd love, but others came behind it—and, in the case of Star Wars, quickly surpassed it.

I don’t remember seeing Star Wars until I was maybe eleven or twelve years old. We got the boxed set of movies at I think Birch Run one year. I remember sitting on the couch in the house I grew up in, watching it for the first time. I was maybe thirteen, maybe a little older. This was before the special editions, before sequels. It was even the early years of the EU—what’s now become the Star Wars Legends line. The first Star Wars book in our house wasn’t even mine, it was allegedly my brother’s, but you can probably guess where that book is now.
That’s right. On my bookshelf, tattered and worn, the blue-covered trade paperback of Heir to the Empire. After the X-Wing novels, the trilogy that started with that book is probably among the most-read books in my collection.

Star Wars is a nerd love that led me to another, one that defines me as equally as several others—it made me a gamer.

Historian. Writer. Gamer.

Yup, that’s me.

Really, this post was meant to be about gaming less than Star Wars, but understanding that nerd love—my many, many nerd loves, but that one in particular—really helps set up the challenge hinted at in this post’s title.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been considering issuing a challenge to myself with regard to blogging. At first, I thought maybe I’d do a month-long run of writing prompts—I did get a new camera, and it could be fun to do interesting image prompts. Slowly, though, as I continued to think, that idea was discarded, at least for now. It’s not to say I might not do it later, I’m just not going to do it right now.

No, I think that this month, in June, I challenge myself in a different way: playing around with something I’d long abandoned, which is developing things for tabletop RPGs. There was barely a night between 2000 and 2005 when I didn’t have a standing game to either run or play—the only nights excluded were either in the summer or reserved for a club meeting (and even then, sometimes there would be a game after a meeting).

I ran a few campaigns myself over the years. One was a large D&D game in my own homebrewed setting, two Forgotten Realms campaigns that became one, and a Star Wars campaign that lasted for more than a year. Those are probably the games I ran that I look back on the most fondly: Forgotten Realms and Star Wars.

Now, as I prepare to possibly run Star Wars for the first time in forever—and trust me, there is so much about my Star Wars gaming experience that didn’t make it into this post (like the 12 years I spent writing Star Wars online with some folks that I appreciate more and more the older I get, especially because they put up with me back in the day)—I’ve decided to also challenge myself to create characters, to create settings, to write adventures and post them for folks to do with what they will. Some of them, of course, will be set in my various writing worlds. Others will simply exist.

So, wish me luck. I’m getting back to my nerd loves, and challenging myself to try something a little new and a little daring and a lot ambitious.

We’ll see how this turns out.

Oh, by the way. Happy Pride.

Processing

Sometimes inspiration comes from dark places.

As I imagine many writers–especially writers of speculative fiction–do, often I use my writing as a tool to process and cope with things in the world beyond my control. As a trained social scientist with degrees in history, anthropology, and political science, I view the world through a unique lens, one even further shaped and refracted by my identity as a writer, by my gender and my sexuality, by my sociopolitical and spiritual beliefs, by my morality and my upbringing. Each of us carry these things as we approach the world.

I’m going to talk about Skypoint here, but there are themes woven into most of what I’ve written that draw from my perception of and reaction to the world around me. In a lot of scenarios, some of those themes are not terribly hard to find and in others they’re more subtle.

Skypoint, as I am currently envisioning it as I work through the writing of the first draft, is one of those works that draws on a lot of darker inspirations. Spoiler warning, if you don’t want to know what I’m planning for the book in either vague or precise terminology, stop now and move on.

Still here? Okay.

Skypoint delves into themes around bodily autonomy, secrets, conspiracy, and war–it addresses the lengths governments will go to to protect secrets and to gain the upper hand in conflict, the lies that are sometimes told to justify actions, and who has the right to do certain things. In the book as I’m writing it now, and the wider world surrounding it (currently planned to adjust some of the history of Legacies of the Lost Earth while telling at least part of the story of how Earth was lost in the first place), there’s a question of who has the right to make decisions for another individual about their mind and health, about their very bodily autonomy and agency. This is mostly depicted through the handling of people with psychic gifts (a theme that I obviously play with fairly often), but anyone who’s read the Legacies so far knows that it goes further and deeper than that–Alana Chase of the Legacies being a prime example. David Lésarte and Hunter Drake are further examples in Skypoint, as both were offered very limited options when it came to their futures–at varying points in their lives, both before and after we meet them in the story.

So, too, does the question of justification for war and how they happen come up in the world. Sometimes there are secrets that are kept so conflict can continue to be justified–and sometimes, as a pretext for conflict in the first place. Admittedly, when I began working on Skypoint, there 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia hadn’t started, though there was still the memory of 2014 and Crimea. Neither of these were on my mind at the time, though, but simmering geopolitical tensions certainly were, as was my own memory of the events that led up to the US-led invasion of Iraq two decades ago. These are the things that inspire and the things that you wrestle with and sometimes, they become useful inspiration and the act of writing becomes cathartic and a mechanism of processing all of the craziness of the world.

Works like Skypoint and the Legacies and all of my other projects have a hint of this to it, except for maybe Magic Crystal Justice Squad which is definitely half tumblr-born dare and maybe half escapism born of a global pandemic.

So I guess, in a way, even that’s a coping mechanism.

Inspiration can come from dark places and dark things, but harnessing that inspiration can help a writer–or any artist–produce something beautiful and lasting, in spite of or perhaps because of its roots. Every work is the product of the time, circumstances, and influences of its creation.

Especially mine.

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.

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…

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.