September 11th, As Told From The Daughter of a Fireman and First Responder

September 11th has come to mean a lot of things over the years. For many, it is a chapter in a history book, a moment in history whose geopolitical consequences are talked about far more often than the moment which caused them. “9/11” has become highly politicized, used as a recruitment tool for military and Jihad alike. It has lead to unprecedented national security overhauls and vigorous debate about privacy and the role of government. September 11th is not discussed in the context of 2001, but rather in the present. It has become a hyperbolic symbol of both the best and the worst of our nation. While September 11th is often referred to in the context of our “post-9/11” world, for some of us, we’re still very much stuck in 2001.

For those of us, like myself, who witnessed that day firsthand, September 11th is still very much cased within the context of what happened in 2001. While I can divide my life perfectly between the ignorant bliss I lived in before 9/11 to what has come after, on this anniversary, I am not able to live in the present. For that day will always be a very personal one, one which would come to define my young life as much as it would define the world at large around me. I am the daughter of a NYC firefighter and 9/11 first responder and this is my story…

Actual radio recording…

Go ahead Battalion 1.

We just had a –  a plane crashed into an upper floor of the World Trade Center. Transmit a second alarm and start relocating companies into that area.

Ten-Four Battalion 1. All companies stand by at this time.

WESTERN NASSAU COUNTY, NY (14 miles from the World Trade Center)

A phone rang, just as I was already late to school. My father, a fireman with Engine Company 58 in Harlem (Manhattan) would be my ride. Lateness for me was becoming a habit. I had recently transitioned back to district, following many years in private school, and I had an argument with a childhood friend about lunch table seating. We shared a first period class, and I was determined to miss it. It was my father, on vacation at the time due to bereavement following the loss of my grandmother, who convinced me otherwise — just ready to leave, I picked up the phone.

It was my father’s firehouse, the fireman on the other end sounded very serious and asked to speak with my father. “A commercial plane?” My father seemed shocked to hear what was told to him — “turn on CNN right now,” he urged me. “The department has recalled the entire force, I have to go into Manhattan,” he told me as CNN sprung to life on TV, a gaping hole in the North Tower of the World Trade Center from a helicopter view.

We barely had time to digest what we were seeing; undoubtedly the worst plane crash to befall the US in years — when the second plane came in on live TV, crashing into the South Tower in a massive fireball and screams…

I think part of being the daughter of a fireman, you sometimes discredit how dangerous their job is. You know they can die, the danger is real, it is omnipresent, but every time your father returns home — they’ve escaped that danger, and you begin to take for granted that they will continue to come home. As the footage repeated on loop, the anchors struggling to compose themselves, the danger became clear all at once. The old moniker of the FDNY “When everybody runs out, we run in” felt less like a tee-shirt slogan, and more like the grave threat it stood to actually represent. My father was not headed to fight a fire, not to respond to a plane crash — he was headed to war, and on the front lines.

As I exited his car to make for my High School, I turned to hug him and told him I loved him. To most, this seems like standard protocol, but my father was always a very stoic man, not one for hugs or much in the way of physical expression of his care. He always quietly expressed his love. He would do what he could to interest me in baseball, bring me to games, coach my teams — hugging just wasn’t one of the ways he showed he cared. On September 11th, 2001, I hugged him, and he hugged me back. The fear in his eyes was palpable and real, in the back of both of our minds this was not just a hug, but the potential for good bye. It was understood from the very beginning, that men would likely die this day and he pulled away from the curb knowing that, as I entered my school knowing it too.

Long before the days of social media, I was one of the first to bring news about the attacks to my High School. As the periods went by, and the scope of the tragedy became clear, we understood there would be no learning today. Parents came to collect their kids from school. The usual noisy airspace en route to JFK overhead fell eerily silent following the grounding of America’s planes; quiet but for the occasional F-15 that would become common place over the skies of New York in the weeks to come. It was evident even before the Towers fell that we were living in a War Zone. Much like my parents reacting to the news of the JFK assassination, kids like me knew America would never be the same again. As it was in 1963, the optimism around the election of Kennedy, would fade into a decade of complex geopolitical tragedy and perpetual war along with the activism and cynicism that it would instill in my parents generation. 9/11 would become the same for my generation, with the latter half of my life living under jingoist fervor, and perpetual war with a grave existential enemy.

As the Towers fell, it was evident thousands had died. I kept replaying the scenarios in my head, assuring myself my father wouldn’t have had time to get down there. In my heart, I knew it wasn’t true; I knew that there was a good chance that he was dead. I began to think about all of the moments I could recall with him at once; a projector image of happy memories to distract myself from the horrors of the present. I watched the news replay the implosion — and I hope that no one need ever feel what it is like to watch as your loved one dies in front of your eyes — It is a horrible, horrible feeling, and it is what I felt watching it at that moment. It is also why, largely due to PTSD, I am unable to watch much footage from that day.

As I made my way into the guidance counselors office, the scope of the tragedy became clear. The counselors were overwhelmed, as so many in my town had parents who worked in the fire department, police department or in the towers themselves. One girl was on my soccer team, she was one of the girls who had been mean to me of late. Today she was besides herself in tears, her parents both worked in Cantor Fitzgerald and her aunt was on the way to pick her up. Both her parents were assumed dead, as the firm took a direct hit from the hijacked airliner.

All of the lunch table drama was forgotten then, as we talked, tried to come to terms with loss. I recalled the times playing Mario Kart on N64 in her basement. Her mother once picked several of us up from soccer practice and ordered pizza, while we played games and blasted the Spice Girls. If there is one thing I remember on 9/11, it’s how much I missed the 90s. I so very much wanted to return to the days of soccer practice, pop music and N64. I longed for the days of Manhunt and Pokemon cards. In 2001, I was forced to become an adult a lot sooner than I wanted to be. I had to learn to understand things that I wasn’t meant to come to terms with until much later in life. The reality of pre- and post-9/11 became so incredibly, painfully clear to me at that moment.

The hours dripped by slowly from there. The school was practically empty as parents had picked their kids up. The school remained open, because for kids like me, a fireman father and nurse mother, my parents needed to help others. I felt like an orphan, sitting as the only kid apart from two others in my 8th Period class. Though I kept trying to bury the thoughts, tired of crying, it was also possible that one of my parents was likely dead. I sat there in English Class with all this on my mind. My teacher, she sat behind the desk, very still. She told us, we didn’t have to do anything, today would be a moment for reflection, and free-writing if we wanted. Nobody moved.

When I finally returned home, thanks to the help of a neighbor, I was told the news. My father was in the hospital, several of his company were critically injured in the collapse. He was there to provide comfort, before returning to the wreckage to try and find their Lieutenant, buried under the Command Center of the Marriott Hotel. Lieutenant Nagel survived the first collapse, taking refuge in an elevator bank. Unable to escape, the rest of Engine Co. 58 had teamed up with a local ladder to try and use heavy equipment to free him and others trapped beneath. His last known words were not of selfishness, a Vietnam veteran, and natural leader — his last words were “how’s my men?”

As the second tower fell, the company made for a parking garage. Yet debris still took its toll on the survivors. One of the men was rushed to surgery, in serious condition.

The most physical connection I had of that day was the smell. You could see the smoke, but the smell was the worst part. It had a metallic burnt smell, like an electrical fire mixed with heavy chemicals. The worst smell of all was that of burning flesh and the trauma as a 13 year old, knowing that was what I was in fact smelling.

14 years later, September 11th is still very much within the context of 2001 because for those who dealt with its consequences firsthand, it is not a documentary, it is not a chapter in a history book — it is reality.

As Lt. Nagel asked “hows my men,” the answer is, many are sick and/or dying due to the exposure to toxic air while digging at the disaster site. While the EPA fraudulently claimed the air was safe, those like my father who dug down there knew they were risking their health to try and find survivors, or any part of a body to give a family closure (Lt. Nagel was never recovered). My father, the picture of good health, a fitness enthusiast and marathon runner, has been diagnosed with cancer twice. Thankfully both were curable. Others have been less lucky, and even my father has a nodule on his lung that will one day likely become cancerous and need operation. Our local representatives have worked tirelessly to reauthorize the James Zadroga Act in Congress to help permanently fund the World Trade Center Health Program to provide health care to the thousands that desperately need it.

On an even more personal front, my parents divorced in 2003. The trauma of 9/11 on my father was too much to psychologically bear. He was inattentive and unable to communicate the horrors he saw, only once ever telling me about the time he dug out a human arm from the debris. He served as family liaison to the Lieutenants family, guilty about not being there, that he was on vacation. Survivors guilt is real, and it is a pressure that was too much to come to terms with. He spent more time with his fellow firemen, and his lieutenants family than he did with his own. The Concert for New York City, and Bowie’s Heroes playing through my dads cell phone as he called me from the event was a high point, and about the only one. The rest of that era is mired by divorce, family drama, war and what has largely become an intentional blur for me.

Since that day, I’ve done a lot with various Firefighters organizations. I helped give private testimony on the importance of the Zadroga Bill.  In 2003, working with my father and several other 9/11 survivors, and the School of Visual Arts program of Art Therapy, we created a tile mural that is now on permanent display in Bellevue Hospital in Lower Manhattan (where most of the days injured wound up). In 2016, I hope to run the NYC Marathon to raise awareness of 9/11 illness and the various complex cancers that make up a large share of those cases (I have been training for it constantly, as it is also the one race my father never was able to run).

I have grown a lot from that day, and grew up a lot on that day as well. Each and every time this anniversary comes around, the day and its immediate aftermath plays on endless loop. Despite many years in therapy, the day is still fresh in my memory, to the point where the adage “never forget” seems almost tacky. How could anyone ever forget 9/11? As many turn to documentaries and special tributes to mourn the tragedy, those of us who witnessed the event firsthand will forever play our own documentary in our heads. While this anniversary is September 11th, 2015, for those of us who lived through it in NY that day, today is again September 11th, 2001 and will be for the rest of our lives.

BROUGHT TO YOU BY (A Comedy Short)




The mall is crowded with SHOPPERS meandering aimlessly through the labyrinth of stores, ads and fatty food carts.

On one corner, just before the elevator that takes you to more of the same is a fantasy bookstore, THE TREASURE CHEST.

It’s a fairly odd place for the store, a relic from yesteryear when people still clamored for the latest fantasy fiction in physical form. And so unsurprisingly, the store is offering a “BLOWOUT, EVERYTHING MUST GO” sale, ahead of its permanent closure.


Behind the counter is TERRY (27), a bookish young lady working the register. Only a few patrons wait in line, one LADY is adamant about her interpretation of the stores signage…

It says everything must go, shouldn’t that apply to the “Fabulous Four” comics too? I want to see a manager!

I am the manager, and I’m sorry but we don’t set those prices.
(pointing to a table)
That is the table that applies to the comics and fantasy novels on sale.

You really need to change your sign then, because this is false advertising, I’m not paying 10 Blipcoins for that when I can watch 15 ads and get it on Amazonian for free!

The LADY leaves in a huff, texting on her phone as if it helped to propel her motion…

Terry’s coworker JAMES is a bespectacled 20-something in a shirt that barely fits, he gives Terry a look…

Pretty soon, we’re just gonna barter with each other like peasants.

Such a cynic James.

Terry heads for the door…

TERRY  (CONT)                                                                          I’m leaving for break, I’ll be back in 15 minutes.


TERRY is on line at the pizza place, it’s the least crowded line compared to the chain eateries…

An overly enthusiastic YOUNG MAN approaches her with a pitch.

Hey there, do you have a moment to talk about women’s health issues?

No, I’m actually on break.

It’ll only take a minute.

I only have ten of those left…

The man frowns, walks away to find another young woman to harass. Terry holds her phone to the pay meter to pay the five Blipcoins for her slice and soda.

I can save you an extra Blipcoin if you watch two ads?

No thanks.

Terry finds a seat next to a FAMILY, they have THREE KIDS who treat the food court like the playground jungle as the parents work their phones…

A slice in one hand, her phone in the other, Terry spots a new text from ALLISON:

I can’t believe he died! OMG.

A sketchy bit link format ends the message, she clicks it.

Phone Screen: The ad page half loads before spitting out a video ad.

Do you like big boobs? Do you like hot wings? Do you like to drink beer and insult women? Of course you do! So come on down to
Wednesday night is dumb blonde trivia night, the guy with the dumbest and hottest girlfriend gets free-refills
— BIMBOS! — Because It’s fun to be dumb!

The ad closes out to reveal a three sentence long paragraph about the death of internet sensation, GRUMPY FACE the cat…

Meme celebrity, GRUMPY FACE is dead. Sources say the cat died of natural causes. Check back for more updates!

The KIDS continue to climb chairs, one smashes to the ground, several people look up from their smart phones at once, but quickly return to their tasks.

Terry scrolls down to read the comments section…

I made 6,000 Blipcoin and two hundred ad-free hours in one week with this amazing work at home trick! >>€€€ CLICK CLICK CLICK NOW !!!! <<<<<>

Terry takes a sip from her soda, more comments…

This is what happens in Democrat-run America, we care more about dead cats than dead patriots fighting illegal immigrants on our border! Your all dumb!


*you’re Gay.

Terry closes out the phone screen, an alert pops up: “Break Over In Five Minutes” — she gets up, throws her plate in the adjacent trashcan, which is also covered in several ADS…




The sanitized pearl-white corridor is so saturated with ADS, it’s a wonder any of them actually make an impression.

One does. AD: Tune into CNNN, to watch the Premier debate his cousin, pretend your vote actually counts!

A VIZION WIRELESS stand also catches her attention: “NEW IFruit IN STOCK!!!” — a mass of people are on line for it.

TWO ADULTS argue over who was in line first —

I slept in my car last night, you’re just gonna cut me?!


Terry reaches the safety of THE TREASURE CHEST, empty but for a single CHINESE MAN (40s).

Hi, do you work here?

I do, how can I help you?

I’d like to buy your entire inventory, how many Blipcoins?

Terry stares at the man, wondering if he’s joking.

You’re serious…

Oh yes, in China, where I am from, people will pay five times the price online for American comics and merchandise!


Terry sits in an empty store, except for a few remaining fantasy novels and old stuffed animals of Pikaman, a Japanese anime animal.

So do we just close up shop now since China bought our whole inventory?

We still have the Castle Invader series, and a few stuffed animals for sale, so we’re still stuck here until 6.

Great… A Game of Palaces knock off and two more hours of work. Plus we’re gonna be stuck here for Ad-Blitz.

Terry dusts off some shelves with a paper towel, the towel also has an ad: ‘Get 50% Off Wings At Bimbos By Presenting This Towel!’

What if I cleaned up dog shit with this towel, you think they would accept the coupon?

Their wings taste like dog shit anyways, so probably.

A YOUNG BOY enters, looking around, confused.

Hey do you have The Fabulous Four comic?

Uh I think we just sold them all to a 40 year old dude.

What about the Star Saga action figure set?

Also sold to a 40 year old dude.

The boy frowns, walks out — when *it* hits —


AN AIR RAID SIREN fills the halls, and several DRONES fill the mall, like birds in-flight. Several people try and run for the _bathroom_, as the drones drop ad-barriers in front of them —

Watch this ad before you pee, or insert 10 Blipcoins to skip.

One man happily complies, while a woman punches another barrier, which forces it to replay the ad —

Replay ad selected, three more ads will now show before admission to restroom.


The two make for a door near the stores entrance…

Fuck — it’s ad blitz, quick, make for the break room, maybe we can get out of it again.

Before they can move, an AD-DRONE enters the threshold of the store, blocking their path.

50 Blipcoin to skip ad-blitz today, OR 10,000 to avoid ad-blitz for the rest of the month.

We already paid our ad-blitz protection to that drone the other day!

I’m sorry, did you say replay ad?

No, I said, we already paid the 10,000!

Now playing, 10,000 ads.

Terry looks at James, they both nod — and split quick.


The two make a mad dash through a cacophony of THOUSANDS OF ADS playing all at once, drones flying everywhere…

— Squawking ads for paper towels, floor cleaner, classic rock tunes plastered over car commercials, kids toys, adult toys, movie trailers, tampons, insurance —

I don’t know why we can’t just go back to the model of paying actual rent to the owner of Smithson Malls, this ad-blitz crap is insane!

The two round a corner when Terry slams into an AD-DRONE.

Featherweight is the leading brand in feminine hygiene —

Terry punches the drone out of the way, and continues toward AN EXIT…

Come on, we’re almost there!

Four AD-DRONES surround James in a box formation…

I can’t get out of it, it’s a three-dimensional video ad!

Please wait 30 seconds before continuing to exit.

Just leave without me Terry, it’s OK! I have ad-block!

Terry makes it out, THE BUZZ of ad-blitz can be heard from inside, it’s a lifeboat perspective of the sinking Titanic.

Thirty seconds of running go by, and Terry begins to wonder whether James has made it out, turning back toward the door from the parking lot, distant screams mixing with anxiety drug ads…

Come on James, use the ad block.

Terry waits, fixated on the doors, but nothing.



A pile of drones tower all the way to the ceiling, blinking and repeating their moniker.

Illegal contraband detected. Ad-Block forbidden…

There’s no sign of James, or anyone in the immediate area. The Drones moniker FADES TO…


Terry sits on the couch, a worried expression on her face as she watches the LOCAL NEWS, several pop-up ads appear over the SENSATIONALIST INTRO MUSIC, before falling away to reveal the Anchor Desk.

Ad-Blitz has claimed another four lives, bringing the death toll to 146 during the controversial programs operation in American Shopping Malls.

The Broadcast is interrupted by a COMMERCIAL, abruptly —

Have you or your loved one been assaulted by ad-drones?

Terry tries muting the television, a prompt appears: “mute not available during this program”


Terry picks up the television, ripping the chord from the wall, and SMASHING the TV on the floor. Her MOTHER comes in, exasperated…

Do you realize how many ads I’m going to have to watch on Amazonian to replace that TV?!

Maybe if we actually went back to paying for things in physical currency, instead of watching ads, people wouldn’t die OR have to watch fucking ads!

It’s cheaper, Terry. Blipcoin is hard to come by these days and no ones used dollars because Amazonian stopped accepting them in the 2020s! If you can’t get it on Amazonian, it’s not worth it.

You don’t find it even remotely disturbing that only the wealthy Silicon Valley elites who programed the Blipcoins on their servers can afford to avoid ad-blitz and drone attacks?

They spent their entire lives programming and making currency, they earned it.

Her mother begins to scrape up the glass…

Sometimes I wish I lived on a deserted island.

Terry thinks about this for a moment…



A beautiful land of palm trees, foliage-laden mountains and white sand in a oasis of tropical blue water…

TERRY has found herself reading “Castle Invaders” in a makeshift hammock, beside a camp fire roasting wild meat.

She rolls over to see: A BRIGHT OBJECT on the shoreline…

She squints, but can’t quite make it out, so she decides to walk towards it…

A calm island breeze mixes with the rhythmic motion of crashing waves, waves which have washed ashore A SHINY BOTTLE.

Terry picks it up, it’s a bottle of BUDWASTED, she notices something blinking inside — when dread overcomes her.

She chucks the bottle toward the sea, but it’s too late, an AD-DRONE escapes the confines of the bottle and springs to life.

Please insert 50 Blipcoin to skip ads, or watch two ads now to drink your next two BUDWASTED absolutely free.

Terry falls to her knees…



“Why Can’t She Just Move On?!”

“Why can’t she just move on?!” — you’ve heard that said, or maybe you have said or thought it yourself. It’s not necessarily gender specific either. We are very quick to assure people their feelings are no big deal, that as neutral participants in the matter, we transpose our feelings onto the way someone else should feel or handle a situation. We are probably not even aware we are doing it, but as a society, we do it all the time: Move on! Get over it! It’s no big deal! Get on with your life and put it in the past! — easier said than done, because if you have ever been really, really hurt — you may never fully get over it. Sometimes, some things cut so deep, it will be there for life, even as the incident moves further and further back in the physical space-time-continuum.

Personally, I haven’t fully moved on. I’ve lost Twitter followers, made people scratch their heads while ranting about one of the hurts in my life. I try to do it unselfishly, I have talked to other women who have experienced similar things — but as my follower count ticks down, and others Direct Message me asking “who made you hurt so much, f*ck ’em — move on” — I realize it feels very selfish. It shouldn’t feel this way, but as a society, we feel people should keep their emotions close to their vest, to not display emotions publicly. When you are female expressing emotion publicly — you also get the “crazy” label, because how dare you express something that you should instead bottle up, don’t be so selfish making it about you and your emotions, woman!

Fuck it though — if you’ve ever been really hurt, you don’t need to justify your feelings to others. The fact is, just about everyone has had a moment in their life where they’ve been really hurt — for a lot of people, it’s been multiple moments in their life. For me the most recent example of that was being hurt by a mentor.

This wasn’t just any mentor, it was a man I had admired professionally since I was a Freshman in High School. Given the chance to get to talk to him, write a few things for him — I was so ecstatic. This wasn’t just someone I professionally admired either, it was someone I had a massive crush on as well; someone I had a lot in common with and found to be extremely gorgeous. Fast forward a bit, and his entire demeanor toward me changed — what felt like a natural interaction felt uncomfortable. He stopped responding to my messages, everything was suddenly on his terms. He went from being encouraging and friendly to extremely critical in a matter of months. When he finally faded away without word, leaving things extremely open-ended, he would continue to hint to me in a multitude of ways that he was watching me (online), all without saying a thing. Despite my many attempts to try and get him to say something, he never said a thing. He never explained why the shift in behavior, why he faded away.

The experience was very difficult for me, it was emotionally devastating because since a Freshman in High School, I admired this person. I invested so much into the outcome of working or being friends with this individual, that when the mind games started up I was wholly unable to deal with it on a mental level, and not having closure was even worse. I was in denial for a long time, I liked the passive attention he gave me.  I played into the games, like many caught up in emotional manipulation do.

Yet, I am still unable to firmly see it as manipulation, probably also because I still care for him on such a deep level. That even where logic would dictate, “this is not good, move on, get over it” — emotionally, I am unable to. I keep defaulting to the way things were, wanting to be upset with him, but still unable to be fully upset with him, though I have every right to be. That’s what happens with someone who cannot move on, they are still very much attached to an idealized version of the past, they’re holding out for that “lets make up and put this in the past” moment which is unlikely to ever happen. It’s that attachment to the past that helps them in a way to avoid what has come after: the pain they are trying to avoid, or the closure they never got.

When you say “oh just move on” — imagine the deepest hurt you’ve ever experienced, and recall how you tried to overcome it. Even those who appear to move on quickly, many are just bottling it up. For me and for many others, we talk about our hurt because it’s what works for us. In trying to move on, people have a multitude of ways to try and do so. For some, it takes a very long time. Even for those who have learned to take their hurt in stride, scars remain. I have come a long way, but I still struggle occasionally and break down into rants every so often, or fall into that trap where I make a subtweet at this person, or craft a subliminal message.

Next time you ask “why can’t she just move on,” maybe be more open minded and consider that everyone works at their own pace. It’s not for you or me to project our time-frame of handling emotional upset or trauma onto others. The best thing we can do is to be supportive, to listen and to not assume that our way of handling a situation is best. Expressing emotion isn’t crazy, it’s healthy. It’s healthy for people to work at their own pace, and for us not to judge that pace as if it were our own.

Are There Double Standards in Persistence Between Men & Women?

The following is a true story, gathered from conversation.

“You might be insane,” he said when she asked the man, a producer, to meet for coffee while in town for his premiere. She was heartbroken, she knew she crossed the line by emailing him while not getting back a response, in fact she admitted that much in her apology. It didn’t matter, the first impression was already made. The only thing she wanted to do, was be mentored by her idol. While he had given her a second chance at a first impression, it seemed like there were still some reservations on his part. In spite of getting some advice from him and general good-natured support and encouragement, they never met.

Twenty years earlier: Approaching college graduation, inspired by his love for music, that young man called several times to a record executive in New York. Clearly the executive was none too happy about it, half-dismissing him, he told the young man (then located in a rural mountain-west college campus) to relocate to New York within a week of graduation for a job. After partying hard the night before the end of college life, exiting with barely passing grades, the young man drove to New York, missing his own graduation. He got a job on the spot with a top record company, moving to LA shortly thereafter to pursue a career in film (the exec allegedly paid for his cross-country gas).

This is exactly the kind of subtle bias at work for a woman pursuing the entertainment business.

I am absolutely NOT suggesting the producer in this story is sexist, NOT AT ALL. For a fact, he’s both hired women and done well to encourage others, including the woman in this story. However, it begs the question of how male and female persistence is greeted and treated differently in one circumstance over the other, generally speaking. One got a job offer. Only many months later over a bizarre turn of events did the young woman get some encouragement and positive feedback before the man disappeared out of her life without a word. One started a career, the other is still pursuing the same level of mentorship the producer got right out of college.

That’s not to say he didn’t struggle in between driving to NY and when he landed in LA. No one avoids the struggle, male or female. But not all struggles are created equal either.

All too often, male-female interaction is reduced to possible sexual innuendo. Even where someone may be attracted to the other, it is assumed better to avoid than to possibly entertain third party presumptions of a relationship or to invite emotional attachment. The man in question is indeed a very handsome man, and he knows it too. He also knows the young woman finds him attractive, and that presents this complicated layer of male-female interaction professionally.

There’s no certainty that this is the case with this story, but it is a viable assumption given industry tendencies. Instead of assuming both parties could act professional in spite of attraction, many industry men prefer to avoid working with a woman outright. In spite of all they had in common, it is then possible to assume this man may never have felt truly comfortable to do anything more but offer advice to that young woman. In an industry where men are the vast majority of those in charge, this creates a challenge for young women to find male mentorship required for success in “above-line” endeavors.

Ultimately, one can only wonder whether the same series of events would unfold similarly if that young woman were a man. Even then, such a thought too would only be an assumption. The woman in this story remains nothing but grateful for his interaction with her, and makes no accusations against him of any kind. At best, this post serves to present general questions about possible cultural bias stemming from two stories of persistence.

So I will leave you with this assumption, just assume a man wrote this email to their professional idol two months out of college and form your own conclusion:

This should only take a minute to read — I merely admire you, and wanted to share with you a brief inspiring story of why I have tried so hard to speak to you after our brief text conversation in June;

In 1995 Derek Jeter was a rookie for the Yankees who had the chance to meet Mickey Mantle, someone he admired. Jeter chose not to meet Mantle, as he felt he was just a rookie with little to offer. Mantle died later that year & Jeter never met him. Today Jeter, a future first ballot hall of famer, has surpassed 3000 hits & will go down as one of the greatest Yankees of all time. Jeter didn’t know he would become such a legend. Surely, I do not know what will become of me. One thing I can say is that unlike Jeter, I reached out to you knowing that I have tremendous potential, despite a lack of direct Hollywood work experience. Jeter always knew he wanted to play short stop for the Yankees. He knew his potential. I always knew that I wanted to work with you (or get to know you). I know my potential, and it is limitless. While I may not overtake Avatar’s box office record the way Jeter did Gherig’s franchise hit record, I know enough to be of promising hope that I may do at least something great. The Yankees took a chance on Jeter. I am hoping that you, (Producers Name), will one day take a chance on me. If you would like to take that chance, I have a one page resume, with a brief addendum containing my film and business courses/skills that I could send to you. I can only hope to hear from you before I never get the chance again.

Sincerely & with utmost admiration

………A woman

Music and Meritocracy: Witnessing a Legend

He strutted to the stage wearing bell bottom jeans and a loose fitted shirt. His dirty blonde hair down past his shoulders, a couple of tussled curls fell over his relaxed face; a youthful 24 years of age. Before him stood a crowd of those predominantly from the Baby Boomer generation, blown away by the young man’s talent. He has the likeness of Robert Plant if you squint your eyes, but more like Jimmy Page if you close them and just listen. His name is Tyler Bryant, and he is opening for Page’s Yardbirds companion, Jeff Beck at The Paramount, a modest converted movie theater in suburban Huntington, New York.

What year was this, you may find yourself asking. If you answered 1972, I would say that’s a good educated guess. However, the year is 2015, and in my late 20s, I was probably among the youngest at that show.

My generation is far more content to listen to Top 40, as is any generation in their youth. The difference of course is that Top 40 has changed significantly over the years, relegating the music of yesteryear into a niche. Joni Mitchell recently told New York Magazine that today’s music scene which she quit in 2007 is less so about the talent, and more so a look:

[producers] were tyrannical and trendy. They would have squelched my need for risk and invention. They would have straightened out all the quirks and oddities and steered me toward the dog race where the bigger profits were. It’s just gotten worse. Somewhere after 2007, around that time, I think, I heard on the radio, a record executive saying quite confidently, ‘We’re no longer looking for talent. We’re looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate.’

As I stared in awe at Tyler Bryant, melting the neck of his acoustic guitar in a blazing solo, I couldn’t help but wonder if this old soul was born to the wrong generation; a Hendrix reincarnate born into the times of commercialized Hip Hop, auto-tuned vocals and polished pop-rock. He is someone, I recall saying to my father (60) standing beside me, “[who] should be on the cover of Rollingstone, not Justin Bieber.” My father agreed, we both agreed, that if he had come up 40 years ago, he would be bigger than Bieber is today.

Though I doubt Tyler would agree with that sentiment. He was so incredibly humble, just happy to be doing what he loves  for a living. “Thank you for coming,” he said sincerely, “when I was young, I had posters of guys like Jeff Beck on my wall, so it’s an honor to be here.” He was gracious for all his opportunity; a story of young success, a prodigy who moved to Music City at the age of 17 only a year after playing on stage with Eric Clapton. Though I doubt he’d like the word prodigy either, and made sure to invoke his band (Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown) back in Nashville rather than make it all about himself.

After the show, Tyler greeted fans by the merchandise table. I can imagine so many other young men afforded the same opportunities would be fickle and elitist. Tyler was anything but. I quickly purchased his new tour-exclusive EP, Bombay B-Sides, and walked over to shake his hand and take some photos. Even though my father couldn’t effectively take the picture, Tyler was patient and offered to wait until we got it right (we did, sort of). He signed my EP, and after thanking him for coming to New York, I realized on my EP it was him thanking me — and others too. “Thanks, Tyler Bryant” the cover of the EP read, a musician who shared the stage with legends, a legend in the making himself, thanking his fans.

As I stared at the “Thank you” I realized that any sense of feeling bad about the fact meritocracy is seemingly on decline was misguided. I realized that this was someone just happy to be doing this. It is all too easy to complain about your circumstances, or the lack of perceived merit — “thank you” I stared at it again — “thank you” was signed by someone just happy to be on this ride.

We can’t control the record industry, or what Top 40 is. But we can support great talent. Please check out and support great talent, you can buy Tyler’s records on iTunes & check him out at his band page.

Silicon Valley Prophets

Most organized religion works with the promise of an eternal resting place, an afterlife where man may live in harmony with his Creator, provided he is a faithful person. While the description of Heaven varies with each religion, it is more or less consistent in terms of its general definition: the promise of eternal life after death.

For those who have devoted their life to science, the idea of immortality in Heaven, or a spiritual after-life, is difficult to believe in absent any empirical evidence. So it was only natural for some brilliant scientists and inventors to want to create a Heaven that is actually real.

Meet Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity movement.

Kurzweil is an inventor, computer scientist and prodigal graduate of MIT. He has gone on to create many important inventions and has helped to advise on multiple projects within his field of computer science. He is currently employed with Google in an advisory/research role where he has significant input on futurist projects, presumably under the program Google X.

After the death of his father, he became obsessed with the idea of being able to talk to him again. You see this emotional side of him in the documentary Transcendent Man — which has become the video-bible to his futurist vision. Kurzweil does not believe in a Judeo-Christian version of Heaven where he may speak to his father again, and so he’s tried to find a scientific solution to where this may be possible. Kurzweil gets blood tests  frequently. He takes massive amounts of pills and supplements every day, all in the hopes of living long enough to see out his predictions for a man-made afterlife (which he claims will be in 2045). He’s even wrote a book on how best to diet to improve your chances of reaching the year of his prediction.

Why is he doing this? Simply, as a human, he like all of us, fear our own mortality. There is a constant worry that we will not have enough time in our mortal lives to accomplish all we desire. Unlike religious people who believe in a spiritual afterlife, individuals like Kurzweil see our time here as limited and finite. What Kurzweil is ultimately trying to do is invent a technological Heaven for those who don’t believe in the religious/spiritual version of it. He, like centuries of men before him, is using his life on earth to try and beat death. However, this existential crisis is thousands of years old, and so far death has held an upper-hand. Of course Kurzweil, also like many before him, believes he will be the one to beat death once and for all.

The Singularity, as envisioned by Kurzweil, is a sort of religion for those who do not believe in God or an afterlife. It is the idea that in spite of no spiritual heaven, if we invest enough in technology, the core idea of Heaven, or immortality, can be attainable.

Kurzweil as a Jesus-figure for this movement is a complicated, but noble man in his intentions and beliefs. Some may even say obsessive in his quest for real immortality, or as he and his followers have come to call it ” the technological singularity.” The technological singularity is the idea that through ever-increasing computing power and technological innovation, man will be able to augment his body to overcome mortal biological defects. Taking this idea a step further, Kurzweil argues we will be able to implant computer chips in our brains which will then be able to upload our conscious into a machine. This he argues will happen by the year 2045, the all significant year of when this Heaven through technology will be complete according to a rather flawed interpretation of Moore’s Law.

The year of Singularity, 2045, is referred to as a singularity because much like the physics term it borrows from, we cannot know what happens after the point of a singularity. Yet, that does not stop either Kurzweil or his disciples from trying to predict after this moment anyhow.

In order to make this prediction even remotely feasible, it will take billions invested into technological innovation. Naturally, the Singularity must go beyond books and documentaries, and into venture capital pitches in order to have any shot at success with its vision.

Singularity University was launched in 2008 by Kurzweil, and Silicon Valley investor and inventor, Peter Diamandis. The goal was not to create a formal university, but an executive retreat where silicon valley entrepreneurs would be given the chance to hear about all of the benefits of investing in the vision of Singularity and how to find funding and start projects of their own in accordance with its vision. The “university” is today supported by NASA Goddard, Google and countless other esteemed organizations and individuals such as Google’s Larry Page and PayPal investor Peter Thiel, thus lending it legitimacy within the Silicon Valley community.

The problem with this pseudo-religious technological goal is that not all of Kurzweil’s followers are as noble in their intentions as he is. Kurzweil is notoriously optimistic about our future, promising an abundance of resources, human immortality, conscious-uploading and no problem technology cannot solve. Those who invest in these visions have a different goal: money, and to make more of it.

Ultimately our resources are finite. If people could live forever, the earth would naturally only be able to hold so many people. As long as money is king of controlling resources, like say the technology to grant immortality, it is unlikely the average citizen will stand to benefit much from Kurzweil’s visions. In fact, the plot-line to the SciFi film Elysium seems more likely than the utopia he envisions, as sad as that might make him.

Peter Thiel himself is a Far-Right Libertarian, and major donor to Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Not only does he believe in an “every man for himself,” “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” vision of America, he also wants to insulate himself and his allies form the consequences of when this rose-colored vision of Darwinian determination fails. Recently he pitched the idea of a sea-steading island colony of technological entrepreneurs where a handful of well off billionaires and millionaires could invest toward a Singularity free from government regulation and interference from average citizens. Basically, an oceanic version of Elysium (presumably until they can relocate into Space).

The difference in vision for its outcome is precisely why Singularity as religion is troublesome. Like Christ, Kurzweil is not a bad person — his followers however leave his visions open to exploitation. On the one hand you have Kurzweil who wants this technology for everyone. On the other hand, you need venture capital to make this a reality, and those investors do not want this available to everyone because scarcity creates more profit. Additionally, where this technology is scarce, only the rich will be able to afford it.

Another problem is that the word Singularity has become rather loosely defined over the years, moving further and further from Kurzweil’s definition as more entrepreneurs take their stab at bringing it into reality. As many scientists doubt the occurrence of this Kurzweilian prediction within our lifetime, believers (those in a serious existential battle against death) try and find loosely correlated examples of Singularity’s existence in everyday life.

Much how like religious people share stories of miracles and unexplained phenomenon in every day life to justify their belief in God without any empirical evidence, Singularity believers try and loosely attach everyday technological gains and inventions to prove that “the singularity is near” — a common utterance by those convinced of its inevitability.

While Kurzweil’s is a very noble goal, one which may even usher in important technological inventions, it’s imperative to remain skeptical of such Utopian claims. Ultimately as is, this movement is a profit center for venture capitalists, and even the media empire Kurzweil has built around himself with books, documentaries, TV shows and speaking engagements. Also, it is entirely convenient how like many prophets before him, the year of reckoning will occur within his lifetime (provided he reaches almost 100).

While I do not believe Kurzweil to be a narcissist the way many prophets before him were, I also don’t believe he is capable of being critical of his own predictions — which is essential as a matter of scientific hypothesis. I believe he is a man who never dealt with the psychological consequences of his fathers death,  and so he has set out a goal for himself to remedy this problem of death and afterlife through his mastery of science. To make this goal a reality, he has had to pursue the money and resources of those who may not share his Utopian vision of the future, leaving open the chance for this technology to be abused or harvested solely for the economic elite. I hope those who support the important goal of technological innovation and progress do not put too much stock into any one prediction of the future. Kurzweil plays an important role in encouraging investment in technology and how technology can if done properly make our world a better place. When a religious undertone is involved like it is with Singularity, the prospect of critical thinking is reduced and in turn the chance for abuse of a movement is born.

Navigating the Games of Hollywood on the Autistic Spectrum

Hollywood is a game of games, it is the requirement that you pick up social cues often so nuanced that reading them becomes a challenge in and of itself.  It is a chess match of figuring out what someone’s thinking long before they say it, and even longer before they act on it. It is a business full of people looking for the tiniest of reasons to judge someone, or label them a certain way. It is a game of social cat and mouse, of projecting certain social images that may or may not be true. It’s a mind-fuck of a business that many excel at, and others — well others do not.

And of these social games, or what I like to call “mind-games,” there’s a growing class of creative people that just doesn’t get them or participate in them very well: people on the autistic spectrum.

Many in the entertainment business have been either diagnosed or strongly associated with spectrum tendencies.

The trouble people on the spectrum is that they live in a “neuro-atypical” world; one where normal people interpret something one way, and someone on the spectrum may look at entirely differently.

This “neuro-atypical” world is often a double edged-sword, especially as it pertains to the creative industries, like Hollywood.

On the one hand, looking at the world in a singularly unique vision lends itself to great creative genius. It’s why apart from only the field of mathematics, the creative industry is so full of people with spectrum disorders or characteristics. When three people look at the same object, and one of those three people is on the spectrum, chances are they will take away the most fascinating and unique image — because their mind is unique. In fact, most people on the spectrum are MENSA, certified geniuses or those with extremely high IQs.

While it may seem great to have a super high IQ, that also has pitfalls, because in just about every case, the social IQ of those on the spectrum is quite low.

Living in this neuro-atypical world means these individuals grasp social cues differently as well. Spectrum individuals do not grasp body language, or spoken/written language the same way as normal people do. In fact, they tend to take things quite literally. There is no social grey area, the normal give and take in a social situation with spectrum persons is compromised. This also means that folks on the spectrum themselves can come across as very literal, or blunt; eliciting a “how could you say that?!” reaction. Social situations for those with aspergers are very black and white.

Characters with spectrum disorders have been shown to great extent in our modern media as well. The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch, focuses on the life of mathematical prodigy Alan Turing. Mr. Turing was posthumously diagnosed with Aspergers, and is considered to have been very far along that spectrum. His social interaction is clearly more inhibited than many peers with the disorder. This is made very clear in his dealings with co-workers and students alike in the film. He is seen as difficult, arrogant and above all else “wacky.”

A less severe case of the disorder is presented in the popular comedy The Big Bang Theory, which focuses on a character Sheldon Cooper as being diagnosed with Aspergers. While not the best of presentations of the disorder, they show how lacking social cues folks with spectrum disorders get themselves into fairly awkward situations — which can lend itself to comedy.

But the reality for folks with this disorder is not funny at all.

When it comes to the mind-games of Hollywood, spectrum folks are particularly at a disadvantage. Despite their intellectual gifts, and creative genius, they just do not get the social cues played with by many in the business.

These folks deal with situations like, well they said *this* — but the person may not have actually meant it. These individuals tend to fixate on things, or outcomes which they themselves do not have control over. This tendency to fixate on certain outcomes or events can lend itself to misunderstanding. “This person is clearly wacky, they just don’t get it.” No they  don’t, and you cannot expect them to.

It is important to note that unlike mental illnesses such as bipolar or depression, aspergers and autistic spectrum disorders are not actual mental illnesses. It is actually a developmental delay in the brain. The only treatment for those with aspergers is therapy, dealing how to learn social cues that were stunted due to brain chemistry from birth. The earlier in life this therapy starts, the better the outcome for the diagnosed person. Contrary to unscientific media speculation, aspergers is not a violent disorder, or associated with mentally unstable behavior. In cases like the Newtown shooting, the perpetrator often had other mental illness on top of his/her spectrum disorder. In fact, the Newtown shooter was posthumously revealed to have schizophrenia.

Most people with Aspergers and spectrum disorders lead normal lives. While they occasionally encounter social difficulties and get themselves into uncomfortable situations, most people will not reveal themselves to have anything wrong with them. At most, these folks are seen as being a bit quirky, even odd. Think your average auteur director, I doubt anyone would say he’s crazy, but certainly many would call him quirky or eccentric.

As corporate as Hollywood has seemed to become, the art industries are made up from quirky, awkward people. We are the social misfits that do not play these mind-games well.

It is also especially difficult being a woman in the business with aspergers because women more often than men are accused of being emotionally compromised, or “crazy.” When social cues are missed, or stubbornness toward a goal exists, men are labeled head-strong or persistent, the “go-getters” with a unique vision. A woman exhibiting the same traits is often labeled clingy, nuts or at worst crazy/emotionally compromised. The potential for misunderstanding is far more debilitating for a woman on the spectrum than a man. Where a man is considered quirky, or eccentric, a woman is considered batty or nuts. This isn’t fair, but this is societies bias at work; and that bias exists in Hollywood too, and even more so in the tech industry where aspergers diagnosis are even more common.

I write this article in the hopes that people in the business (and elsewhere) be less judgmental. We’re all dealing with our own limitations, and points of views will undoubtedly vary. And at the end of the day, having a Sheldon Cooper on your team is a potentially very rewarding experience. The great thing about the creative industries is that we all take from our collective experience to make something great. If we limited ourselves only to the normal opinion, the neuro-typical POV, and that of those best at playing mind-games, imagine how much art would suffer from banality. Some of the best creators are quirky, weird and have a unique perspective on the world. So while they may be socially stunted in some areas, that’s a part of who they are. No one should ever have to apologize for who they are, and that is why I write this post.








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