A few days before 9/11, my father died. On September 3rd, I was at the world science fiction convention in Philly and got a call to come back to Cincinnati. That I did and on the morning of the attack, I was coping with my mother coping with his death.
There I was watching the TV, planning my flight back to New York when I saw the first tower burning, smoke billowing out everywhere. It was unbelievable. Then the second plane struck and I was as speechless as nearly everyone else throughout the world.
Though I didn’t know it consciously at the time, that attack was life-changing for millions, maybe billions — as much in some ways as for those at the site or in the immediate area. I was stunned and not sure how to deal with such devastation.
There, in Ohio, I was helpless to respond in any meaningful way. Or so I thought.
Ultimately, it was a personally life-altering event. It changed my career path and changed me philosophically, as a writer, a thinker and as creator. I had written primarily about music, interviewing musicians, producers, and the like. But at that moment, I picked up the phone and called a newspaper editor who had asked me to write a media column.
I told him I would write about the coverage of 9/11 as it was viewed from afar and on the TV.
After three weeks, I came back to Manhattan and haven’t returned to Cincinnati since.
At the time, I had an office near the site. Acrid smoke still permeated the air even after I returned three weeks later. The poisonous air quality was so bad I didn’t go back to the office for months. I even received some 9/11 funds to cover the rent since it was impossible to return.
I did visit the location and, as a result, transformed the media column into a platform for covering indie film, political events and much more. As a journalist, I was able to go to the site when President Bush visited it and see the destruction up-close.
I shifted from print to online media work. I became a regular contributor to the Huffington Post and launched my own website. I was now a full fledged master of the internet, less concerned with collecting clippings and more concerned with URLs.
Without boring you about my personal history any longer, I have to ask, 20 years later where am I?
I was reborn into communicating through this new form — cyberspace. I now exist in the digital stream. And with Covid 19 accelerating a process that had been underway, we are using the online pipeline more than ever.
So where are the rest of us?
The war in Afghanistan is over — however well it was executed or not. There is a whole generation of Gen-Zers who never knew the world as it was before. Many were born around the time of the attack and have never known the previous world.
In a way, 9/11 became a dividing line for so many things in the arts, politics and our culture. Multi-culturalism is in play. Gay life is as much a part of daily activity as anything else and the idea of traveling into space doesn’t seem so remote anymore. With this 20th anniversary at hand, it behooves all of us to take a moment of reflection and think, how did that attack affect me? — not just politically, but spiritually as well.
So please, read the following companion piece I wrote 20 years ago — when the attack was freshly in mind.
Let this anniversary change us once more.