When The Towers Fell

How do I remember 9/11?

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in history class. The teacher had left the room while we chatted amongst ourselves, taking advantage of her absence. When she returned, she mentioned that something had happened, maybe a bombing in the city, and that we were to sit tight. This was before the advent of smartphones; I didn’t even have my first Motorola flip handset yet. Laptops were barely a thing, and Facebook hadn’t been conceived so no one was rushing to check social media for news. Word of mouth was our link to the world.

More time passed and she returned and informed us that we were all being dismissed, released on our own pending parental permission. I found it a bit strange that our mommies had to call in to say it was okay for us to leave, after all, we were high schoolers now! But my mom was on the ball and had done so. Her job was only about 10 blocks away, so I made my way there to meet her with a group of downtown-bound students. All public transportation had been suspended, and the streets were teeming with pedestrians, even more so than normal New York standards, as if we were walking a marathon.

I met up with my mom at her job and we continued from 14th Street, down to Grand Street. I couldn’t see the smoke from where we walked. But at that point I’m not even sure I knew planes had crashed into the towers. The word currently going around was that the World Trade Center had been bombed. Again. I didn’t remember the first one, but that one hadn’t been SO crazy, right? The mood was cautious, yet spirited. With trains and buses halted, and an unknown looming threat to the city, New Yorkers stepped up in solidarity. As we walked through the streets I love, store owners offered bottled water to those journeying home. Apartment building doormen held their doors open, inviting folks to use their restroom facilities. Strangers exchanged friendly words of encouragement. I saw a long queue of bodies crossing each bridge in the distance. I felt for them, since I only had to walk to the bottom of Manhattan.

When we finally made it back home, we beelined for the television and the clarity it would bring. We didn’t even have to specifically turn to a news station. Every channel was broadcasting live and looping raw footage of the morning’s events. Two planes had flown into the Twin Towers, and our beloved buildings had crumbled.

We had just been there the weekend before. Stage Door Delicatessen had been across the street, with their confection-like pancakes. We’d discovered there was a little shopping center in one of the towers. In New York, you are always making new discoveries; you never truly know all the nooks and crannies of the entire city. I couldn’t believe those two towers, the icons of Manhattan that appeared in countless movies and that I’d always used as a directional compass, like the North Star, looking up in their direction to navigate, were gone.

Everything broadcasted was uncensored. The frustration, rife with profanity, the terror, the shock, the desperation, it was all there, unscripted. We watched as those trapped in the tower and resigned to their fate, soared from the windows to a guaranteed demise that was the lesser of two evils in their heads. The sticky web of stifling human emotion wrapped heavily around us, connecting the souls of all who watched. That day, we were all the same. We all felt the same things.

Back then, I was a chat room nerd, who went online every night at the same time to hang out with my Internet friends. That night, the mood was equal parts solemn and anger. There were no jokes and no discussing the latest episode of Gundam Wing.

“If they take the Empire State Building next, I swear to God…” someone typed.

It felt good to make empty threats against unknown (at the time) assailants as powerless teenagers. It felt good to simply expel the emotion we were feeling. Anyone who tried any troll-worthy comments that downplayed the massacre were punted out to the harshest degree. Methodus Toolz could do that.

The next day was a little less raw, but likely only for those like me who were less affected and less in the line of fire. I hadn’t lost a loved one or listened to a voicemail they left about how much they loved me and how they wouldn’t make it home tonight. I hadn’t thrown on my gear and dodged a barrage of concrete on foot to save anyone like the first responders did. My apartment building was far enough away from the debris and soot to affect me no more than some eye sensitivity for a few days after. But I still felt a deep bond with the people of my city, who had so often garnered a reputation for being rude, nasty and uncaring, who were embracing each other and offering helping hands or shoulders to cry on in the true spirit of support. For awhile after, we didn’t just pass each other in the streets. We checked on each other, gave smiles of encouragement and eye contacts of acknowledgement. We gave each other strength.

For months, even years after, I had the wildest dreams. Dreams of warmongers coming to assault our country on ships with motion-tracking explosive cannonballs. Dreams of terrorists hiding in plain view in bodegas launching rocket-launchers at my window. Dreams of an unknown threat eating away at our moon, threatening to plunge our world into eternal darkness because we didn’t have the resources to stop the source or save it. They prompted me to begin a dream journal to explore my subconscious. I hadn’t expected such an aftermath of rippling currents, expanding out to reach me with its tickling tremors.

When they first showed preview pictures of how they were going to turn the sites of the Twin Towers into deep waterfall reflection pools, I thought, “No way!” For some reason I didn’t think it was possible. But they did. They came through and I’ve visited the memorial multiple times and they are beautiful. When I go, I slowly meander through the site and never lose sight of the reason these pools are here in the first place. I touch a few names, gaze over the railings, and reflect. It’s important that I pay mental tribute when I visit, because I remember the collective trauma. Whatever the surrounding reasons behind it, so much human life was needlessly extinguished. I hope that fact remains respected, even over the passage of time.

My city is strong.

~Tael

That New York Bubble

At the time of this post, I can still say that I’ve never had an overtly racist encounter. Strange, isn’t it? I’m a 30-year-old African American woman with about 12 years worth of dreadlocks. I have never once been called a “nigger” to my face or over the internet. I have never had a backhanded compliment such as “Oh she’s blahblahblah, for a Black girl.” I’ve never had trouble landing a job either because of my race. The only questionable situation I had with a recruiter was when she tried to low-key tell me that the positions she recruited for would likely have a problem with my hair (And well, the hair stays). And as far as I know, I’ve never been passed over for anything because of the color of my skin.

I grew up in New York City, which I consider to be the greatest city in America. I may not have an overwhelming “patriotic” pride, but I sure am loyal as hell to New York. And growing up here, there’s a whole different lifestyle and an entirely unique state of mind. There is no physical divide between rich and poor and race here. Sure, certain neighborhoods are more LIKELY to have a certain demographic (South Williamsburg, Sheepshead Bay, Brownsville) but gentrification runs rampant through the city, low-income/lottery housing exists in the most luxurious buildings (my friend was lucky enough to bag one) and you’ll find everyone in Times Square from the businessmen to the tourists to the teenagers to the hood squad.

There is a certain kind of acceptance that comes with being a New York native. If you went to school here, you were exposed to a mixing bowl of race and culture at a very early age. I grew up brushing elbows with project kids, families who had enough money to treat a group of kids to dinner and the movies for their child’s birthday (an impressive feat in the 90s), immigrant children who spoke little English, young girls wearing hijabs and a boy brought up as Jehovah’s Witness who wasn’t allowed to participate in any of the holiday activities. We had class luncheons where everyone would bring in family dishes, Dance Festivals where we’d learn choreography from different origins, and Spanish class was a requirement for 5 years of my public school life.

The fact that a Confederate flag was recently found displayed in the window of an LES apartment was definitely a surprise, considering I grew up in LES. Because in the New York Bubble, racism is something that happens somewhere else. Growing up here did not instill the fear of cops in me and getting pulled over was never a stressful or scary event. In the New York Bubble, a racist establishment will get slammed and shamed on social media or Yelp; a racist incident in the street will be recorded on a camera phone and make the Gothamist for the city to snub; a Good Samaritan will call someone out publicly for displaying prejudice. Growing up in NYC, I was not taught to see race, traipsing through Chinatown, the only Black person in a swarm of Chinese friends, their parents thrilled with my knowledge of Mah-Jongg without the English characters on the pieces. In the New York Bubble, racism is a shocking and disgusting thing we’ve mostly evolved past, while small towns in Middle America remain ignorant without progress. In my mom’s building, our conservative Jewish neighbor, a mother of 2, has offered my two cousins to come wait inside her house when we weren’t home, and they can look like hoodlums sometimes.

I just had a conversation with my boyfriend the other night about how different my high school experience was from the ones you see portrayed in teen movies. No one was ever singled out for being poor, for being overweight, or for struggling in English class. Those with bad grades or bigger pants sizes or suspicious odors weren’t really treated differently than anyone else. What kind of alternate universe did we exist in? Were we just on a different level of maturity?

Even when I leave New York, I find that the Bubble still follows me. As much as I’ve traveled to visit my family in South Carolina, no one has ever tossed a racial comment my way down the dirt roads, surrounded by deep forests and trailer parks. When I moved to Boston for 2 years, I was met with friendliness abounds, as if the whole New York vs Boston rivalry didn’t exist. When I went to D.C. for Otakon a week ago, nada. Likewise, Baltimore, Virginia and down the East Coast, nothing.

One might see this as a strong sign that our country is progressing. Until you look at your Facebook feed and the news stories, the viral videos of police encounters and personal accounts from across the country of cultural headscarves getting snatched and sneers to “go back to your country.” And you dejectedly realize it is very much still there. And sometimes…it comes into our Bubble and it’s here too. And while I hold my NYC upbringing like a talisman, how far can that Bubble extend? The outer membrane is so thin…

~Tael

Weird Things that Bug New Yorkers

New Yorkers get a bad rap for being unfriendly people. But it’s not that. It’s that because we have a higher population, the odds for more assholes-per-square-inch increase, because, math. And then the rest of us New Yorkers have to deal with the more-assholes-per-square-inch ourselves, so we become accustomed to encountering and dealing with them, and then we believe they’re everywhere here too, which creates a spiraling domino effect that results in the “New York State of Mind.” And if the following things bug you, then congratulations; you’ve officially evolved to an authentic New York State of Mind. 🙂

1. When someone sits directly next to you on a virtually empty train or bus.

New Yorkers are used to people always being around at any given moment, but when it’s not rush hour or a busy period, we grab that moment of solitude and hold on tight.

SidebySide

There is a rule: You do NOT sit next to someone if there’s an available seat NOT sitting next to someone. You do NOT enter the train and sit at the closest available seat next to someone, just because it’s close! You scan the aisle, take a leisurely stroll through the moving car, core engaged (because this will help your subway surfing skills) and pick a nice empty space keeping up the yin/yang of passenger-empty seat-passenger-empty seat. You ONLY break this balance if there is no other option. And if you DO break the balance, and there ARE other options, then yes, those strange waves of vengeful resentment you might be feeling are absolutely directed at you.

2. When someone walks parallel on the sidewalk at the same speed as you.

You’re not friends. You’re not acquainted. And yet, you may as well be holding hands with them. And then you try to speed up, and then they kind of speed up too, and then the awkward level rises…and then the anger level rises cause it’s awkward. And then you need to cross the street because the angry awkwardness is overwhelming you.

AwkwardWalkingPenguin

And then you need to hope they aren’t also crossing the street too. Which leads to…

3. Coincidentally walking the same route as another person.

I’m sure in small towns, you both would giggle and make a joke about how one’s stalking the other, or even strike up some small talk about where you both are going. But in New York, if you’re playing the “Pass That Person” game on the street, but then you both end up waiting at the curb side-by-side for the Walk signal to turn, cross the same street, both turn right, stop at the same bodega for only one thing so you both pay quickly and leave at the same time, and then turn LEFT together (this happened on my walk to the gym this morning, I kid you not) and cruise up the next block trying to act like you don’t realize the other person is still there, or suspecting that they were paid to keep tabs on you…

I don’t like it.

4. Speeding up to cut me off and then immediately walking slowly.

This is most agonizing on stairs. Like if you’re exiting the train and you want to ninja-rush up in double-time, but someone darts in front of you, then proceeds to lumber their way up at an excruciating pace. WHY DID YOU CUT ME OFF THEN? Why was it so important to cut me off so that you could walk slowly?

Your hurried MOVEMENTS do not mean you are progressing quickly.

And then when you try to scurry around them, a barrage of people come trailing down on the other side. Then you and the rest of the line are stuck matching the pace of the lumberer for the whole walk up. And I telepathically communicate to the people behind me, “I would have done better for you.”

5. Sidewalk-spreading.

I chalk this up to some sort of Narcissus complex. You, strolling down the street like you don’t have to get to work, or like it’s not raining really hard, with your arms outstretched (mentally). And maybe your right-hand man is right beside you, but only kind-of sort-of, because you both have to stretch out to make sure you’re taking up the entirety of the sidewalk, and yell your comments to one another across the space in “conversation” as you both saunter your way, making it highly difficult for anyone to zip around you from either side. It’s a declaration. A declaration that you are not aware of anything going on around you.

6. Those who stand on the left side of the escalator.

My very own boyfriend, who is not from New York, told me that outside of the city, the notion that there is a standing side on the escalator AND a walking side is unheard of.

I mean, I get it. Technically, I guess the entire concept of an escalator is so you DON’T have to walk up it at all. You stand and check your phone and have a chat, feet firmly planted as it delivers you to your final destination. But goddammit, this is a city of movers. And if i’m on an escalator, it’s because I have somewhere to be. And in New York, escalators are advanced stairs. And if someone forgets the rule of the standing side and the walking side…well, you could say “Excuse me,” I suppose, and hope they hear you (I have a low voice). BUT HOW DO THEY NOT KNOW THE CODE?? The I-don’t-feel-like-walking people are lining up on the right for a reason. If you’re not, then you’re an obstruction. And I might have to break out the nonchalant bravado and bypass the escalator for the stairs because you’re choosing to be an obstruction.

Ever tried to beat the escalator riders by showing them you can use your legs on the stairs and making it to the top before them?

Ever done it at the Exchange Place Light Rail station in Jersey City?

ExchangeStairs.jpg

My bravado really took a toll on my lungs that time.

Not everyone has a New York State of Mind. The OGs are now outnumbered.

~Tael (OG New Yorker)

BoroughCon 2017

Yo!

While I initially tried to keep my posts limited to the scope of the Indie Author Journey, what I’m finding is that the Indie Author Journey gets boring! You write, edit and format until your brain gets very angry, exhaust all the cheap marketing strategies you can find on the internet for little ROI, read many…many…best strategies/helpful tips articles, and make a whole lot of missteps, all while hoping for the lottery chance that your indie title will land in the right hands that send it viral. Eventually, the amount of unique writable content you can recount dwindles unless you’re constantly working on new novels/projects. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a writer first, it’s just one of my indulgences, so why not have my site reflect the eccentric ninja that I am?

So let’s talk about BoroughCon, which described itself as a brand new Comic/Sci-Fi/Gaming convention that I would classify as indie because of its newcomer status. Today was the final day, and I attended Saturday with my boyfriend and sister (this was her first con as well) in tow, after randomly seeing an ad for it at a bus stop. Oh, and of course, My First Cosplay.

MeilinPose

The first orderable costume online I ever encountered was Meilin’s from Cardcaptor Sakura (and let’s be honest, that whole series is chock full of banging costumes I’d love to get my hands on if done with quality), and this was while I was in high school, maybe even junior high. I favorited that page and vowed to save up enough for it, then went to college and forgot. Over 10 years later, I remembered that costume and Meilin’s was the first to enter my collection. Those hanging bells are real, by the way, and I had to focus on not whacking anyone with them on the subway.

First-year cons have a reputation for being not-that-great, but I wholeheartedly dived into this one because I…<3…indies! This was my third con experience (I don’t count Sakura Matsuri). My first was last year’s Castle Point Anime Convention in Hoboken which my boyfriend, a veteran of cons, introduced me to. I was immediately jealous of those in character, because it had always been my ridiculously nerdy dream to have the money (because I surely don’t have the skill) to procure an anime/video game outfit and then actually have a place to wear it to. I also attended Liberty City’s con in Times Square last year, which was another first time con. I had no problem with BoroughCon’s first-time status and I absolutely wanted to support them, especially since they were in Queens, fairly accessible by the subway. I found St. John’s to be an excellent space for it; I think colleges provide great venues for this sort of thing.

Now yes, there was a light turnout (the hotel that hosted Liberty City’s con last year was crammed), but that meant more space in the gaming room, because Liberty City’s game room was tiny and packed, and I didn’t even try to jump into the throng to wrestle a controller away for a spot. BoroughCon’s gaming room was spacious enough, and I was able to Smash it up for a good chunk of time there with fellow enthusiasts, and collect wins with silent grace like a ninja. I can’t speak for the con programming because the only one I attended was the Cosplay Fashion Show, which has become my no-miss-attendance event at these things. I felt they could have explained the divisions a little more, because I had no idea what the categories like “journeyman” etc…actually meant. A staff member tried to get me to join, but A. I’m still way too shy for that and B. although this was my first cosplay I can already say I don’t make my own costumes. I wear it for the spirit and my own personal dedication, but not as a finalization of my own craftsmanship.

All in all, I simply had a good time mingling with like-minded individuals. With the exception of the somewhat bumbling front deskers, all staff were incredibly friendly, randomly stopping us to let us know what programs were about to start, asking if we were lost, or complimenting my costume. It had a very chill vibe that I respected, and the Dealer’s Hall/Artists Alley was also cavernous enough (with much free candy!), though I was the only one in my party who declined to part with my gald. Thankfully, I’d scoured the Internet for tips for first-time cosplayers beforehand and learned that a mini-sewing kit is an essential item to carry, since one of my shoe straps broke while traversing the Dealer’s Hall, which could have ruined the whole day for me had I not been prepared. I was also prepared for the many deeply curious looks as I shuttled from Harlem through the subway to Queens in costume. I can’t wait for more and would definitely return to BoroughCon as they grow and become more popular!

Dat Writer Professionalism

Self-publishing should conjure up a desert wasteland backdrop with a hooded figure in black creeping along the outskirts of society. You’re avoiding big corporate publishers and taking your book rights into your own hands! You’re a rebel. You’re a revolutionary! You’re sticking it to the traditional industry route and to hell with all the rules!

Except, no.

The self-publishing world is not as vagabond as it once was, since the road to stand out amidst the millions of other indies who believe in their work is pretty similar to the corporate publishing route.

But I wanted to be an OUTLAW like one of these guys!!

Outlaws

Unfortunately, self-publishing may not give you the badass points you were hoping for. Remember, there’s a widely accepted code of conduct and professionalism for the most success, to help you stand up against those big-name publishers. My approach so far has been to be chill about it, like Spike Spiegel, because who didn’t like Spike Spiegel?? He remained composed, kicked so much ass because of it, and always came out on top. Until…you know.

Months ago, I tried to reach out to a website about possibly listing Chaos (un)Controlled during it’s free period on Amazon. It wasn’t one of the traditional promotion sites; I was trying to think outside the box and it was an NYC website I’d been following for years now. Since the main premise of Chaos (un)Controlled is Rixa climbing a ladder in the New York Public Library while working there as a Page to reach University Heights, it seemed fitting. Here was their response:

NYCOnTheCheapResponse

Welp, I’d gotten many query rejection letters before; I could handle this. I could see they were trying to scold me for my Vash-The-Stampede-like approach. Was my salutation “Hey guys”? Yes. Did I ask for a shout-out from “you guys”? Yes. Did I understand their offense? Nope, not at all. I guess I wasn’t “professional” enough. However, as a long-time visitor of their site and Twitter follower, I hadn’t found their site to be particularly professional at all. The layout wasn’t quality, site updates were only occasional, and they only had about 2,000 Twitter followers, so I hadn’t pegged their business as an uber-polished establishment that necessitated a suit and tie to email them. After that response I realized if that was what they were trying to be, then forget it, I didn’t need them. My whole premise for sticking with them had been their small-business-friendly feel. I love supporting small, non-corporate entities and other indie startups trying to make it in the world. So I stopped following them and no longer visit their site. Remember, I prefer Chucks. And I’m petty.

If someone enjoyed my work, and wants to come up and compliment me like “Yo, dude, bro, guy, your writing is sick, I really dug it,” I would appreciate that to the fullest. My go-to author profile picture is me sipping from a Pokeball mug. My descriptions don’t follow the standard “So-and-so Author was born in New England where she resides with her 3 kids, loving husband and dog. She has written numerous critically acclaimed pieces that have won countless awards from the Society of Great Writers That We Respect for their Professionalism yadda yadda.” Truthtrebles.com is my “author website,” I guess. I don’t try to professionalize my profile, because I’m a person first, indie author second. I’d rather read someone’s words rather than a list of their 30 awards or New York Times Bestseller rankings. I’d rather gain notoriety for realness, and go off guns-blazing like Gene Starwind. Professionalism doesn’t inspire human connection as much as realness.  It will hinder me, but that’s fine. Because outlaws are so much cooler. Especially when they wear peacoats with Chucks. And that’s kind of what self-publishing is all about.

See You Space Cowboy…

~Tael

In Close Quarters

A couple of years ago, I wrote a subway poem in a tweet that I never forgot:

All this space…

Why are you so close to me?

Why are you so close to me?

Whyareyousoclosetome?

Whyareourarmstouching?

I visualized it making it to one of the Poetry In Motion billboards on the train, so that riders who were unknowingly committing this crime would see it, magically be enlightened, and correct the offending behavior. Ahh, those New York dreams…

~Tael