Humanity In A Moment Of Desperation

911jumpers

Salon
What They Went Through
by Garrison Keillor

It was painful to hear the woman in anguish on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center, crying, “I’m going to die, aren’t I? I’m going to die.” Melissa Doi was 32, beautiful, with laughing eyes and black hair. She was lying on the floor of her office at IQ Financial, overwhelmed by smoke and heat, calling for help. And then there was Kevin Cosgrove on the 105th floor, moments before it collapsed, gasping for breath, saying, “We’re young men, we’re not ready to die.” And then he screamed, “Oh my God” as the building started to collapse. It’s in their voices, what they went through. […]

This is an amazing column by Keillor and something that I personally needed to read (thank you, David).

For hours upon hours after the towers went down, I watched my neighbors leaping to their death on TV and on that day, I couldn’t, I wouldn’t turn away. I studied every moment. I did so because I inherently recognized that for every detail I could make out of their silhouetted images dropping through space and time towards their moment of blackness, I felt as if I was with them… and they weren’t alone.

In those fleeting seconds, their humanity was my humanity and mine—as much as I could will—was hopefully theirs.

As the moments and hours turned into days, which quickly turned into weeks and months, and life resumed to some form of normality in NYC, my perspective of 9/11 shifted.

Every day for the next 18 months, I commuted directly past the remains of the WTC on foot. I watched street vendors sell Ground Zero t-shirts and hats to tourists, while photographers—amateur and professional alike—lined up to document their moment in the aftermath of tragedy.

Over time, as I walked past the blue, particle board construction walls that lined my path to Jersey City on the south side of the mass graveyard, I saw them build up with graffiti, expressing the raw emotions of New Yorkers concerning 9/11, the victims, and the impending wars. Ten months in, they were all painted over by city workers, only to be “thought vandalized” once again.

Somewhere within that surreal period of time, I stopped looking at images of that day, but I never lost why that person leaping from the tower meant so much to me in those fleeting moments as they headed towards eternity.

I needed to say that out loud today.

No One Left Behind

leftbehind

Jonathan Hutson, Talk To Action
The Purpose Driven Life Takers

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission – both a religious mission and a military mission — to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state – especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is “to conduct physical and spiritual warfare”; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

[…]

This game immerses children in present-day New York City — 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).

Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, “Praise the Lord,” as they blow infidels away.

The designers intend this game to become the first dominionist warrior game to break through in the popular culture due to its violent scenarios and realistic graphics, lighting, and sound effects. Its creators expect it to earn a rating of T for Teen. How violent is that? That’s the rating shared by Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell – Chaos Theory, a top selling game in which high-tech gadgets and high-powered weapons – frag grenades, shotguns, assault rifles, and submachine guns — are used to terminate enemies with extreme prejudice.

Could such a violent, dominionist Christian video game really break through to the popular culture? Well, it is based on a series of books that have already set sales records—the blockbuster Left Behind series of 14 novels by writer Jerry B. Jenkins and his visionary collaborator, retired Southern Baptist minister Tim LaHaye. “We hope teenagers like the game,” Mr. LaHaye told the Los Angeles Times. “Our real goal is to have no one left behind.” […]

Freedom of speech and anti-censorship laws exist in this nation to protect our ability to hold civil discourse—even when it’s in the form of twisted, violent, crusading game narratives aimed at our children and marketed through the tenticles of the mega-church.

The redeeming factor behind the development of this specific game, is that the motive of the religous right is on display for the world to see. Too often their hatred becomes cloaked in motive numbing rhetoric—placating tales of Jesus’ love for all humanity as long as humanity devotes itself to Jesus. Over the past 20 years, such rhetoric has masked their intent, allowing them to gain a strong, political foothold in America—specifically with moderate Christians.

So when the religous right’s arrogance is responsible for removing their own metaphorical hoods, we need to gaze into their hateful, soulless eyes and take detailed notes.

The “Up In Arms” Crowd

It’s interesting to note that historically, church groups have been the most active in denouncing hip-hop music and video games for their violent content, arguing that they influence kids to become violent, misogynistic, or even worse, question authority.

Left Behind: Eternal Forces is scheduled to release in October 2006, just four months away. Where are these vocal groups now? Is “bling” and “bitch” rhetoric more deserving of protest than marketing to children a programmed, interactive virtual reality for cleansing non-Christian people from the face of the earth?

Hillary Clinton railed hard against the Hot Coffee mod, a locked, sex scene found in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (a scene that only a slight percentage of geeks even knew existed) in a move that smelled of pandering to the family values crowd. Where is her outrage?

The War Tapes: A Soldier’s Story

Yesterday, I attended the film’s world premeire at the Tribeca Film Festival as a guest of Director, Deborah Scranton. The air of the theatre was chock-full of tangible anticipation, as the audience verbally spatted with itself before, during and after the screening.

What else would you expect?

We’re waist deep in a war that has spiraled out of (non)control into random acts of sectarian violence, kidnappings and assassinations. But no matter your position on the war in Iraq, The War Tapes is a must see. It isn’t propaganda for empire building and it isn’t anti-war material. The film is 90-minutes of brilliantly edited (from 1200+ hours of raw footage), first person perspective of three National Guard soldiers who agreed to film their year-long tour of Iraq. The narrative twists and turns through adrenaline rushes, moments of self-reflection and gut-wrenching honest discourse. It’s nothing but real, human storytelling of real, human beings.

The Q&A session following the film was interesting, both from the filmmaker and audience perspective. While we were being told about the thousands of hours of footage and IM conversations behind the making of the film, a few guys in the front of the audience began shouting randomly at the audience, defending the complexity of the war to a group of people who might have had a particular political perspective, but were incredibly apropos with their attention and questions directed squarely at the film itself.

wartapes

Deborah and crew gracefully handled the protests and gave their mic’s to the soldiers (Stephen Pink, Mike Moriarty and Zack Bazzi), who casually stepped into the spotlight and delivered their $.02 on the whole experience. I guess a film premeire isn’t too much pressure after spending 365 days watching each other’s backs on the other side of the planet.

Following the Q&A, we stopped by the after party at The Bubble Lounge. While packed with friends, family and industry types, we eventually bumped into Deborah and her son. During our conversation, Deborah told me that due to the success of this project, a handful of soldiers have since contacted her, looking to become armed with the latest weapon of warfare: a video camera. Citizen media has a new brother in arms, and soldier media has a five star director.

Grind To The Back

jazz-gallery

So what do you do when the grind of the city commute smacks you in the face? You find a comfy spot in the back of The Jazz Gallery and let Steve Coleman’s workshop grab ahold of your soul.

Coleman wasn’t on my radar before tonight, but leave it to Jonathan to introduce me to a hot act in the Jazz scene. This guy is dope. He’s currently playing a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1 then a 1-1-2-2-2-1-1-1-1… 1-1 beat, getting his drummer up on cue to the progressive, deterioration of the riff. Man, this is a workshop. Sue Mingus runs a “workshop” with the B and C players of the Big Band and Orchestra, occationally practicing new compositions. I love you Sue, but that’s not a workshop. That’s income.

Steve just invited audience members to join him on stage and work out the riff. Now with two women on the mic and the drummer carrying the beat, he gets abstract off the beat — like a launch point of a ramp built in progressive takes.

Two boards added, a half peeled away, two and a half stiched on, pause for a second, add three and gone!…

Now an audience member is on the piano, riffing to the progressive beat, Coleman standing back, checking out the take… and the first woman on the mic scatting… add Coleman…

Coleman’s not only brilliant, he has the patience and explanatory skills of a seasoned teacher.

Alright, now he’s dropping the improv down an octive and slowing down the tempo, mixing up the original riff into more paused flashes of laddders. Live blogging a jazz show… if I could visually describe what I’m hearing, well, imagine it to be something like this.

Dope!

2005: A Year For Change

fireworks

The funny thing about running into the posting wall, is that it almost always comes out of the blue, often at the most random of times. Well, unlike past years, in 2005 I hit the wall at the most appropriate time of the year.

So in order to get back up on the blogging horse, I’m now going to confront what annoyed me the most over the past week or so by presenting you a better late than never (maybe), hodge-podge list of the best stuff I personally experienced in 2005:

Going freelance
Yeah, I know you can’t buy this or go see it, but it was somewhat of a life-changing moment for me. And while I’ve gone back and forth between full-time and freelance gigs over the years, unless the perfect full-time opportunity to build smart experiences and flex skills with like-minded people arises, this time I just might not go back.

Beginning to blog full-time
While I’m still a bit of a beat-down blogger, I’m pretty amped that I’ve been writing consistently since last April. Because my last job consumed so much of my time and energy, my posts were few and far between in 2004 and without writing, sketching, or being creative on some level for me and me alone, I begin to lose it. Maybe I won’t post as much this year, but when I do, they’ll be accompanied by original creative output (illustrations, music, podcasts, etc.).

Working with Media Matters
Admittedly, before I took the gig to collaborate on the redesign of the Media Matters site, I had never heard of David Brock. So as I researched Brock and Media Matters the week prior to starting the job, I became fascinated with his story, especially how the concept of his book literally became a functional venture (the Media Matters for America non-profit) to clean up the media. Does the released information architecture of the site exactly reflect my vision for a forward-thinking domain? Not quite, but it’s getting there, and man, does our media need a real-time ecosystem of accountability.

Picking up my father’s habit of watching the 11 o’clock news
My father is religous in catching the local 11 o’clock news. Aside from catching the weather for the following day (ever notice how the weather is placed at the end of the newscast?), it provides him daily insight into the local news that he feels he needs. Well, I’m now picking up his tradition by religiously catching The Daily Show. Yes, with the amount of in-depth news I catch on my aggregator, I need Jon Stewart’s take on our twisted planet to close out my day-to-day.

Returning to The Chuck Nevitt Invitational
In 1999, the innaugural CNI season, my handicapped parkin’ squad ended up tying for first place. Thanks to Carver High, an invite was extended to me six years after I released my entire fantasy baseball squad due to the real-life threat of a strike (I thought they’d never get over that one). I’m only a few healed players away from having the trophy living in my den for the next year, so Bonzi, Emeka, hurry up and get healthy!

Becoming active by donating to causes I believe in
Historically, I’ve backed organiations by talking them up and defending their practices within mixed crowds. Similar to how I viewed my ability to become a Big Brother (not responsible enough), I also thought that one needed to be rich to financially support an organization. Well, after giving a few hundred dollars to EFF and TerraPass, I’ve come to realize that one doesn’t have to be wealthy to contribute. This year, I’m looking to expand my philanthropic range, so I guess I’ll just have to kill a few magazine subscriptions and keep my heat down at night.

Really Simple Syndication: For real
I’ve been using feeds for years, but not to the degree I used them this past year. Bloglines has become my primary source of information and news from around the world. Out of my 130+ subscriptions, less than ten would be considered mainstream media, so for the first time in my life my perspective is being primarily influenced by people like me. This is a post all in it’s own.

Moving to Greensboro, North Carolina
As I posted before I left JC to come to Greensboro, I’ve a bunch of mixed feelings. On one hand, going from a long-distance relationship to living with Angela has been great. Just as cool has been seeing my brother much more than once every six months. Greensboro is a laid back town, larger in scale than my one-time home of Williamstown, but similar in vibe; small enough to get away from the hustle and bustle, but large enough to ensure that your girlfriend isn’t one degree away from your doctor, dentist, shrink, yoga instructor, etc. On the other hand, it’s not New York City.

Well, that’s that. This post isn’t chock full of top movies or albums, but hey, those types of posts probably annoy you just as much as they annoy me. If 2005 was my year of change, then I’m thinking that 2006 will be the year of transparency across the board. The internet has far too many dedicated, passionate people and easily accessible, open hooks to not dig into rich domains (such as government) to create open, honest conversations.

Transparency and accountability in 2006.

To Move On…

montclair-manhattan-skyline

I grew up across the Hudson, about 13 miles west in a town called Montclair. Our home stood on a hill on the western side of town, with my bedroom resting on the top, eastern side of our three floor Victorian. My eyes could skip over Anderson Park, past downtown Upper Montclair and over the thin tree tops in neighboring towns, catching the very tips of The City skyline.

As a young boy that daily exercise both excited and enticed, as my minds eye continued on, landing me deep into the midst of Manhattan, my perceived gateway to the world.

My parents are both artists and educators who met at Columbia University in the 60’s. As a child in the late 70’s, they’d take me and my brother to gallery openings in old Soho and to the West Village to experience off and on Broadway shows. Our days in The City were fun, provocative and inspiring. When family or friends came to town, we’d enter tourist mode and scale the Empire State Building for a die-cast statue and snapshots of the view down or dine at Windows on the World.

The City was as big as the world; they were one and the same to me.

Life Lessons

From an early age, my parents gave me the freedom to explore my surroundings in our neighborhood and around my suburban town with only a few lessons in tow before letting me out the door—to always look left and right before crossing the street and to call home collect if I needed a ride.

America, circa the late 70’s / early 80’s—times in the suburbs were much simpler back then.

The streets of The City had many different lessons in tow.

The City schooled me that a world filled of vertical cities lived above street level while below the streets, the world was connected, full of roaming individuals whom I couldn’t engage with by sight or by conversation. In those pre-Giuliani times—the Bernard Getz and Guardian Angels era of NYC, only a few years removed from the Son of Sam and the craziness of the blackout—you’d be pegged a tourist for simply looking 45 degrees higher than your line of sight and that transgression could open yourself up to a con or a mugging. A similar lesson applied to those in the subway; don’t catch eyes, don’t speak loudly, don’t flash your goods and for God’s sake, don’t take prolonged glances at the transit map, even if it were to take 20 sly glances to find your next stop.

Sounds rough, but I trusted The City, as it was everything I dreamed of becoming; creative, mysterious, successful, exciting. I learned to glance and frame the moment of people, places, and things—take in all around me, but mind my business was the underlying lesson I took away. Now at 34, schooled by many more life experiences of much greater complications, I still think, dream, plan, and move about my life with these early lessons in tow.

Why?

Because The City also gave me Don Quixote and Starlight Express and George Segal pedestrians and giant, 5-foot pencils and toothbrushes on West Broadway. It gave me the Bronx Bombers, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and hot dogs on the sidewalk. It even gave me Yellow Cabs with mini, fold-up seats facing away from the driver, which perfectly fit my smaller frame.

The City bought my complete trust with the allure of growing up to possess a soul similar to the Great Grid and all that lay in-between, so I walked between the buildings and never looked up; I glanced at the people and never saw a face.

Settling In

In 1996 I commuted into my first gig in Manhattan from Jersey City—an undervalued coastal city on the New Jersey side of the Hudson only a few miles away, but a solid 45 minute commute. I worked just below Canal Street in a multimedia shop set above a Futon outlet; one of the twenty some-odd Futon stores on the block. My daily trek began as a nice contrast to my previous reverse commute, where I drove deep into the Western expanses of New Jersey each day fighting traffic and avoiding the plethora of StateTroopers trying to fill their quotas.

wtc-escalator

Once I landed in Manhattan at the WTC PATH station, I’d ride the packed escalators to ground level and walk the twelve blocks to my job, breathing in the fresh air of downtown Manhattan—mixed with the smell of roasted peanuts and my fellow commuter’s secondary smoke. I’d stop at the same street vendor to pick up my banana, buttered roll and coffee before settling into our studio, getting comfortable at a window desk that overlooked the ancient rooftop water towers sprinkled across the Soho skyline.

As my long day of animating cartoon characters and holding lunch meetings at classic spots such as Fanelli’s and Bar 89 came to a close, I looked forward to the walk back to the WTC. The fading sun would create new angles of building shadows and breezes as the day came to a close. I’d meander through it all to claim my ride under the river’s surface to my affordable existence on the other shore.

This wasn’t quite what I had imagined growing up, but I was living within the gateway, and it was enough… or so I thought.

In no time flat I started to loathe my commute with the crowd of business people on the PATH, squashed together like sardines from the platform to the train up into the heart of the WTC. It wasn’t just the claustrophobic spaces; even the innocuous moments began eating away at me, such as passing through the mall twice a day, reminding me that WTC was a hub for capitalism.

What happened to the romance of The City?

As an architectural marvel I once cherished for its utilitarian presence in the skyline, the towers now felt reduced to a pair of thousand foot-tall roofs filled with suits and a food court. In my 25-year old mind, the towers now represented home to corporate yes men. Watching three-quarters of my fellow travelers disappear each morning like worker ants into these towers, this mecca of commerce, as tourists perused the mall for useless commodities, my artistic temperament shook.

It was during my rush hour commute home one day that I was struck that I was breaking a principle rule that I had learned from The City as a child—I was gawking at the vertical city.

For months on end I had been staring into its belly, observing its machinations, deconstructing its inhabitants; had my career driven proclivities begun to match its particular DNA? Might this have influenced why I was participating in office politics, fighting for titles rather than just enjoying making video games within the artist’s culture of SoHo? As I pondered this epiphany, wondering if I was changing (and not for the better), The City responded in it’s best Don Pardo voice to quell my new found sensibilities in the only way it knew how:

“Forget why you thought you loved me, Sean. Classic Yellow Cabs are gone, Soho is an outdoor mall, the eighties are done; it’s time to get paid, so try on these duds for size!”

A valiant effort, but this time I wasn’t buying.

My eyes were open, as prolonged glances into the souls of the people who surrounded me showed pangs of exhaustion; the real-life scheming of men and women desperate to keep up with the Jones’. Now as I passed through the grid of The City, each of the vertical cities above ground took on a different representation—hierarchy, wealth and leverage looming over the masses of citizens who were also tacitly schooled to not look upwards, nor at one another.

I respected both the need and hustle to survive, but I came to the conclusion that by not looking all these years—at my fellow New Yorkers and up to the tips of these towers—I was complicit in giving power to this culture of captains at the helm, armed with dangled carrots and the unattainable conclusions of never ending pursuits.

I had the tortured soul of an artist who couldn’t find comfort within his own vision.

To Move On

I needed to shift gears, so in 1999, I left The City for the rural expanses of the Berkshires and the promise of Silicon Village.

Once clear of a physical connection to these networks of sky scrapers, the remaining matrix of interlocking human beings moved to the foreground. When I romanced the Great Grid as an adolescent, it wasn’t the office towers with their white collar whips, rather the unknown personalities, the diverse cultures, and the creativity of the people of New York City themselves.

The soul of The City.

I left for only a respite before heading back to Brooklyn to reconnect in 2000. And then just as I began to fall in love with The City once again came 9/11—a close call for me, a disaster for many and a tragedy for all New Yorkers, in particular. I doubled down on my affinity, but the trauma took its toll, and eventually, the mental cost of thriving in The City became too much for me to cover, even as The City was ripe to provide opportunities.

Today marks the fourth day of the second week of my new life in Greensboro, North Carolina. Today is also the anniversary of 9/11, and the air is fraught with the ills of four years gone by and the present day occupation our government holds in the Middle East as a response. While the energy in this land locked college town is far less electric and eclectic than The City, the air seems more breathable somehow.

Maybe I’ve come to realize that seeing my passions to fruition can’t occur within a representation of the confrontational juxtaposition itself.

Maybe I’m better off planning, expressing, and implementing from a room on the eastern side of an old wooden home, with a window overlooking the thin, slumbering Oaks and Elms of a quaint town, while the far off tips of a different skyline glistens in the early morning sky.

Maybe I now feel comfortable looking directly into the eyes of my fellow travelers, exploring relationships with people both underground and above—walking proudly as one of the many roaming souls seeking connection and redemption.

Maybe…

in the darkness she shines

woman

i look to my left and see your smile
all the while i try to file
away my past
my stumbles
my gaffs
your eyes scream a subtle cry
try to tell me why
i can’t look away
today is the day
i step up to you standing straight
today is the day
in with the love, out with the hate
yeah, today is the day
i’m ready to say
i could leave this big city
the loss of my metrocard ain’t a pity
i’d go to the ends of the earth to be with you
if only just for a moment
it’d be time well spent
you see you have my heart
my lungs
my synapses
my tongue
twisted
back to the front
you know all about the game
i’m all about the hunt
but this time shit is for real
i never thought my wounds would heal
feel
me
oh my
believe it or not
i’m puffing a natural high
one plus one equals two
fu, baby
f.u.

Native Tongues Knitting Away

dres

Last night I got to check out one of my all-time favorite hip-hop acts, Black Sheep, as they rocked the Knitting Factory along with The Jungle Brothers.

I’ve been waiting for another Sheep album to drop since Non-Fiction and apparently one is on it’s way called 8WM. I haven’t seen these guys live since a ’91 show with Tribe and Naughty at the Newark Symphony Hall… and they didn’t disappoint.

Dres is one of the coolest MCs in the industry, with a tight flow and a lounge stage presence. As the night began, he was a bit pissed that the mostly 30+ white crowd didn’t know any of their old, obscure tunes and weren’t getting into the act, but after some straight up cuts on the audience and a few timely dropped hits, the entire crowd was all over the Engine, Engine #9 bar.

Constantly sipping from a brew, Dres got more and more sentimental and couldn’t stop expressing his love for the JB’s (who were out of control), and after Mr 9.5 performed a spoken word love fest to a lady in the crowd (as only he could), the show wrapped with the entire cast doing De La’s Buddy.

The golden years of Hip-hop for just one more night…

Mingus Big Band And Smalls

A frenetic interpretation at the fez
A frenetic interpretation at the fez

So I was hanging out with my bud JD last night at the Fez, checking out Mingus Big Band as I usually do every other Thursday night, when news through the player’s grapevine hit me like a left hook.

Smalls is closing saturday night. Smalls!

I’ve been going to this club for almost 7 years now. They’re the most lax Jazz club in the city; it’s BYOB to stock in their own fridge, with jamming until 10am for $10, a cozy environment with plush velore seats… man. A damn shame. I talked to one of the regular musicians last night and he was bummed, but he turned it around by saying:

Hey, that’s what clubs do. They close.

I guess if he can look at it like that, I should be able to as well… but still, NYC is losing a great, intimate venue for up and coming Jazz acts and established ones alike.

fuck cnn

embedded reporting

*click*

embedded eyes for the world to see
aggression
repression
straight up atrocities
the coalition of two
with the paid help of thirty eight
the move to baghdad’s gate…
a soldier’s eyes dilate…
garbled orders seal their fate

iraq didn’t hit new york
the pentagon
or even pennsylvania
they sure as hell didn’t fund the aggression
but they’re gonna catch hell like tony pena
you see america is a game of power and repression
the residue of 75 years of administration masturbation
so what can a private do?
now that he’s been ordered to commit pow! pow!
walk in the direction of home?
fire one shot off into his dome?
no.
no way.
not now.
he now does what he’s been told
because he’s now a (brainwashed) soldier
even as voices rush through his mind screaming
“murderer!”
and “i told ya!”…
everlasting memories
anti-social
distant
colder…

the night is quietly turning into day
blood red sky creeping out of gray
embedded eyes for the world to see
time to turn in for bed
time to turn off the tv.

*click*