Looking back at the road fully visible

A trending topic on Twitter today gave me an existential moment that was as fascinating as it was slightly horrendous. The topic –  #10yearsago – is pretty self-explanatory. I have a notoriously bad memory, so I was sitting in the basement with my sister, thinking about what I could have been doing 10 years ago as we were having a conversation, coming up with very little.

I had to accomplish the task mathematically. Ten years ago I was … about to turn 16. That made me a sophomore in high school, I think. Sophomore year, second semester, I was about to buck the system and join the staff of Novi High’s newspaper, The Wildcat Roar, which was normally a class reserved for juniors and higher.

(UPDATE: I realized soon after this that I’d done the math wrong, and actually was a freshman in high school 10 years ago. That’s not really conducive to this blog, so in favor of writing the one that I’m interested in writing, we’re adjusting to #9yearsago.)

Sitting in the basement, wandering through my life the way kids go through history textbooks, I realized that the singular decision to join the newspaper has had a larger effect on my life than any other thing I’ve done – ever.

It’s actually kind of haunting, not to mention a little grotesque, the way this one choice has absolutely shaped every. single. thing. that has happened to me since. From academia to career path, from college choice to my love life, from who my friends are to how I spent various summers, from what I wanted to be to what I am, the Wildcat Fucking Roar is responsible for all of it.

How unsettling, not to mention altogether underwhelming (who am I, exactly, that I can be narrowed down and pigeonholed so thoroughly?), is that?

Not that it’s all bad. I’m painting the suck picture here, and there’s a hearty helping of that. There have also been some incredible things to come out of this decision. Finding something at which I excelled was hugely formative for me. I had very little self-confidence for the entirety of my time in school, and journalism turned me around, helping to become (somewhat) more outgoing and altering my view of myself and the world at large. I have a few key people and newspaper to thank for that.

Central Michigan Life -- three years of long hours and great people. I attended Central Michigan University instead of the University of Michigan, a decision I stand by (and am extremely thankful for) to this day. My college years were dominated by my work at Central Michigan Life, which was altogether amazing. Many of my best friends are journos and I love them. And there’s Caitlin M. Foyt, who I only know (and who only loves me) because of the time we spent together on the newspaper.

But let’s also track the ensuing carnage from that single moment, shall we?

In 1999, I joined the newspaper. I designed the sports section. Jason Skiba, a journalism teacher who also had a major effect on me, had just taken the paper from an 8×11 magazine-format craprag to a broadsheet newsprint Actual Paper. Game-changer, that guy.

Skiba also gave me my first high school B. Because I got my section done late. Because designing is goddamn hard (and I still don’t believe I deserved that B).

That first B knocked me out of contention to be among the 80-odd valedictorians in our grade-inflated high school. It pushed me out of four-year straight-A contention, which had a massive effect on my work ethic. Suddenly I couldn’t obtain academic greatness, and therefore, the pressure was off. I was somewhat coasting through of high school after that because really, who the hell cared at that point.

The majority of high school was dedicated to The Roar. I worked up to editor in chief, a role shared with one Nick Hurwitch, and I let it consume my afternoons and weekends. I wrote a feature column and stupid articles about movies and cartoons. It was a writing outlet and I was in love with it.

When it came time to go to college, journalism factored in heavily. My work at The Roar had me considering journo as career path, which in turn led to me looking seriously at CMU and Michigan State (at the time, I didn’t think I had much chance of getting into U-M). There were a handful of other things that occurred, including scholarship happenings that influenced the decision, but in the end, CMU was as much a choice that made sense financially as one that had a journalism program I could get behind.

As far as career was concerned, the thing I’d always sort of planned to do involved creative writing somehow. Mostly I was thinking “novelist” and therefore studied creative writing. Journalism was a backup plan, and thus my minor. It was later that I realized I could double-major without too much stress and it made much, much more sense.

But journalism was always the “backup career” in case I needed to do something in the meantime while waiting to get published/discovered/otherwise famous. Until, of course, it became the primary career as I devoted just about all of my time and energy to CM Life. I rose as high as managing editor at that institution, spent a summer as design editor, got some pretty great clips, did a whooole lot of editing, and parlayed my time there into internships and a couple of jobs. (It wasn’t until much later that I realized the industry was falling apart and as a “backup plan,” it was barely feasible.)

One has to wonder about destiny when you find a woman like this, a year after you thought you'd never see her again. While I was there, I met Caitlin, which tops the list as The Single Greatest Thing To Ever Happen To Me. For that reason alone, the 10 years of journalism that were the result of Skiba’s (and later newspaper adviser Lydia Cadena’s [she deserves much more mention than I’m giving her here]) influence and the intoxicating allure of newsprint have been, as they say, Fucking Phenomenal. The last year with her has been life-alteringly great, and without the decision to attend CMU, without the decision to study journalism, without my experience at my high school newspaper, I would never have found her and life would be sad and abysmal. Of everything that’s happened, even if everything that had resulted from journalism was negative, it would have been well worth it.

Although, she could have made it a little easier on me and said something to me five years ago, instead of us waiting until last March to finally admit to each other how we felt. But anyway.

The massive influence of journalism on me led me to my internship, which constituted a second summer in journalism, at the Grand Rapids Press. Since I’d been interested in page design and have some sort of irritating affinity for editing copy, I did a copy desk internship there. That work experience and my experience as an editor at CM Life (I basically started as an editor and designer, which robbed me, in retrospect, of a great deal of reporting) led me to a copy desk job at the Port Huron Times-Herald. Moving to Chicago led me to the Web copy editing job I currently hold.

I’ve come to realize editing definitely is not how I want to spend the rest of my life – at all. I wonder what might have happened if I’d had the foresight to drop journalism in favor of spending more time immersing myself in English, creative writing, and film – the way I’m starting to wish I had.

So today I’m two months out from turning 25, and pretty much reserved to the notion that journalism is not, in fact, what I want to do with my life. And deciding not to join the newspaper way back when I was two months out from turning 16 would have put me at a different college, in a different city, studying a different thing, and eventually working a different job. I wouldn’t have spent the last year living at home, or most of the year before that in Chicago, or most of the year before that living in apartments in southeast Michigan night shifts at newspapers and watching movies.

What ifs are difficult and, obviously, pointless. What isn’t pointless I think, though, is recognizing the path of life and how important a single decision can be. And despite all this random career insecurity I’ve been suffering from for the last year, it’s important to note: I have never ever been happier, in my life, than I am today. When I look back at the path of my life, despite some misgivings, I can’t help but wonder about the concept of fate – journalism, that one original decision, is responsible for me finding the woman of my dreams. And we’re together despite my inadvertent efforts to never realize how she felt about me, or to tell her how I felt. The path seems to have led me, inexorably, to Caitlin.

Hard to downplay the significance of that.

It’s weird thinking about the exact path of life over the last 10 years. But you can’t change a path if you can’t see it, right? And I can certainly see it, in stark clarity.

Happiness derived of metal and plastic

cd cover I’ve been holding off writing a post about the most important aspect of my life, because I didn’t want to come off as sappy and ridiculous. In addition, who would want to read about it, I reasoned.

Alas, no longer can I refrain from pouring my heart out all over the Internet. I am absolutely, deeply, hopelessly, endlessly, ridiculously in love with Caitlin M. Foyt.

For Christmas, Caitlin got me the greatest, most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received. You can read a more in-depth description on her blog, but suffice to say, she took the mix tape idea I utilized for her birthday and as is her way, did it 100 times better than I did.

Caitlin’s extremely involved 23-track mix CD, “Songs I Never Related To Before I Met You,” is an intense and satisfying love letter. You know a person is special when she has the ability to recast multiple songs you’ve grown to hate over the years and make them relevant and fun to hear. “Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer is a crap song – except in the context of Caitlin’s album, where it’s not only perfect, but enjoyable. Who knew.

And she put a Meat Loaf track on there (“I Would Do Anything For Love,” which I love to belt) despite her dislike for Mr. Loaf.

That’s not to discount the case and booklet she made me with her patented collage technique with love letter liner notes. The undertaking was massive, the quality shows, and it’s impossible for me to overstate how great it makes me feel.

Part Two of the gift: engraved Zippo lighter. I’ve always wanted one and her message on it is a constant reminder that my life is amazing.

I’m a lucky guy.

Meanwhile, Caitlin often turns to me and asks, “Why do you like me?” As if there’s a way to answer that with any kind of brevity or precision.

Why do I like her? Because she’s the most incredible person I’ve ever met; because she’s beautiful, smart, funny, interesting, and incredibly talented; because she’s the kind of person who puts together a mix CD complete with its own unique and amazing packaging.

I can’t help but laugh at the irony of it. The most beautiful and interesting woman I’ve ever known – the woman of my dreams, the woman I’ve wished I could be with since the first day we met – wonders why I like her.

It’s especially weird because I’ve always perceived a difference in league here. I’m not someone who’s got a ton of self-esteem and confidence when it comes matters of women as it is, and to be honest, I never really thought I had a shot with Caitlin.

Even more strange are the occasional discussions we have about how close we both came to confessing how we felt about each other more than a year ago. It’s funny to think about how different my life would be if I’d chosen a different path (read: grown a spine) two years ago before I left Michigan for six months in Chicago.

Thinking about how my life could have been different just highlights how good it is now. Receiving Caitlin’s deeply personal Christmas gift is almost as good as getting her something that she’ll love just as much. And more than anything, I love being in a relationship in which giving and creating gifts – one of my all-time most hated endeavors because I endlessly agonize over finding and obtaining worthwhile gifts in (almost) all cases – is something that I now actually have a great time doing. And I love being reminded that I love it. And I love that my life’s become something in which I find thinking and writing about stuff like this fun and interesting enough to do it.

One among the musically challenged

When it came time for Caitlin’s birthday, I remembered something she’d mentioned on Twitter (I think) about the inherent romance to be found in making someone a mixed tape.

I, of course, fancy myself a romantic and have a goal of being the best boyfriend ever, and thus immediately set about making such a tape.

I stared taking notes as I listened to my iPod, cataloguing songs I thought would be great for a compilation that could explain how I feel and pretty much be an amazing gift. I got together a pretty decent list over the next two or three months, then went about figuring out just how the tape would be laid out.

Not long before I got close to thinking about the final product (and procuring the many implements necessary for recording  a cassette tape in the age of the mp3), Caitlin and I had a conversation about music. More than one of the songs I’d chosen for the list (of which Caitlin was completely unaware) came up in the conversation. And of course, it was a conversation about crappy music.

Music comes up as a topic of conversation a lot in our relationship. This is something I really like. Caitlin is incredibly well-educated when it comes to Rock and Roll, specifically classic rock, and she can speak intelligently about all manner of bands, topics, songs, movements and genres. She knows a ton and we talk about it a lot.

Comparatively, I know almost nothing about music. Where Caitlin’s upbringing included tons of music – the movements of the ’90s coupled with extensive time spent listening to classic rock in the cars of  her parents, afternoons in front of record players and digging through vinyl collections belonging to her parents and the parents of her friends – I was subjected to bad late-’80s, early ’90s pop.

My musical education was as such: Top 40 hits that sucked on the easy listening stations that populate Detroit, thrust upon me in my mom’s car. When I was with my dad, despite his being a musician, I had little exposure to anything noteworthy. I remember a lot of Van Halen – not much else.

I spent a long time struggling with music in my youth. I was late to the party on bands, radio stations, MTV, and owning and operating CDs, to the point of it actually affecting my identity. After all, I didn’t do well as a kid as far as self-esteem, and here was yet another way in which I was inadequate, uneducated, and completely uncool.

People would ask me things like “What do you listen to?” and “What’s your favorite band?” and I had no answer to give them. In a lot of ways, that was really tough. When you struggle to interact with other people your age and can’t even connect on ground so common as music (and for a seriously long time – I was probably 12 or 13 before I bought my first CD and by then it was a survival necessity), every time someone asks you something stupid and simple like that, you wince.

When I was really young, I owned a total of maybe three cassettes. One was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells,” one was Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” (which my dad had a copy of by coincidence and gave to me), and one was “Dookie” by Green Day, which I lost or otherwise destroyed. Green Day would later become one of my favorite all-time bands, but there was a long gap between those first tapes and figuring out a musical identity.

It’s worth noting that you get this impression of being a freak if you don’t know anything about music. It wasn’t that I’d never listened to music – it’s that I spent so much of my life hating the music to which I was forced to listen. I spent so much time reading and watching movies and playing video games that the music I really liked was stuff by John Williams and, later, Japanese composers responsible for game soundtracks. I found myself hating Billy Idol and Paula Abdul and similar pop garbage.

So whenever anyone brought up music, I had nothing to say, and worse, when I was directly questioned I had no answers.

Ever known anyone who can’t say, “Yes, this is the kind of music I like?” Or who didn’t even know what the kinds of music were?

I started to grab hold of and hold tightly to whatever bands I could. This way I had: 1. Something to listen to and become familiar with, which meant being able to speak in a (somewhat) educated way about at least something, and 2. Something to point to in order to prove I wasn’t some kind of freak/diminish my status as a nerd-dork.

When I found a copy of Aerosmith’s greatest hits CD, “Big Ones,” among my parents’ albums, I grabbed it. I listened to it like crazy. Aerosmith was a respectable band, right? They had a fairly modern sound, one which people wouldn’t fault me for liking, right? It wasn’t about what the music sounded like – it was hitting a mark so that I could survive socially. Later, I saw Bush play “Swallow” on “Saturday Night Live,” and thusly picked up “Razorblade Suitcase” and started telling people how Bush was now my favorite band. Again – modern sound, cool guys that other people knew, who filled a social need and not much else.

It wasn’t until much later that I actually started to learn something about music. It was considered “cool” to watch MTV in the middle school era, and I tried that for a while, but I really found the station irritating. So eventually I stopped playing that game. I got further into the pop punk movement from friends, and before long I was just keeping up with them. In sixth grade I snagged a CD of “Dookie,” I stole from my dad’s CD collection, and I started burning CDs from other people.

About that time I got heavily into video game music and instrumental/classical type stuff. I still knew absolutely nothing about rock, but I was finding that I wasn’t really into the music available to me on the radio. At least I was finally starting to pay attention: By high school, I was building what I thought was a diverse, eclectic music collection that spanned genres and periods, leaning more and more heavily on classic rock.

Still, I struggled to talk to people about music. A friend of mine on CMU’s Ultimate Frisbee team was driving us to a tournament my freshman year. He asked me what music I liked, fumbling and stuttering I said “punk,” and then immediately afterward realized I didn’t mean punk, but the shitty modern iteration pop punk, and this kid was a real punk guy and knew what he was talking about. He asked about The Clash. I responded sheepishly about Green Day and The Offspring. We didn’t talk about music again.

But by the end of college I’d created what I thought was a decent musical identity, and I had a distinctive taste, and I knew what sounded good even if I didn’t know the history of it, and I could say definitively what was bad.

Then I met Caitlin M. Foyt. Then I started trying to make a mix tape that would both be a physical manifestation of my feelings for her and a tape to which she’d actually want to listen.

I started panicking.

My list sucked, I decided, and it was extremely obvious that Caitlin’s taste far outpaced my own. Often when we drive together, listening to my iPod, she blasts past numerous songs on which I would have lingered, finding more obscure things, or songs from genres I’m not used to and bands with which I’m less familiar. She’s usually, if not always, right when it comes to musical taste – but I’m painfully aware that what I might choose is stuff she’s been into, listened to extensively, learned about, and subsequently moved beyond.

Four or five nights I stared at the list for four or five hours each. I spent two whole nights going through all 4,600 or so songs in my iTunes arsenal, trying to decide what should go on the list. I ended up with a vat of more than 100 songs from which to choose.

Next I polled people I knew. Musically, Nick Hurwitch for a long time has been my touchstone, so I went to him. Courtney, Caitlin’s sister, knows her better than anyone, so I asked what she thought. Both sent me in directions that really helped.

But what changed the project and made it work was realigning my perception. There were some things I had to consider: First, that I’d likely never come up with a decent enough list to really impress Caitlin, because I simply didn’t know what I was doing; Second, that the tape could still be a success if it became more than just a simple mix.

The tape needed to tell a story.

It made a lot of sense. I’m worthless as a musician or music critic – but as a writer, I could potentially create something Caitlin could appreciate on a level beyond the weakness of my taste and understanding.

Suddenly I wasn’t picking songs based on how good they were, but whether I thought she would like them, and more importantly, on how well they interacted with one another.

The story I came up with is sort of strange. The tools at my disposal – other people’s creative work cobbled together in a short list of 17 songs – are blunt as hell. And it’s not our story (although that’s what I’d originally hoped for), because, again, I just didn’t have the tools.

But it’s a story close to our story. It’s similar to ours, it hits a lot of the right notes (so to speak), and that’s definitely the inspiration. It’s more fiction than not, unfortunately, but it’s a love story, and I think it’s a powerful one.

I haven’t given Caitlin the tape yet. I’m writing this the  morning of her big surprise birthday celebration, planning to post it Sunday, so I don’t know how she’ll react. But I feel good about it.

The whole experience opened my eyes to some things that I’d never really thought consciously about (now documented at length, as you’ve just read): Basically, how little an impact music has had on me as a person – a case that seems to be really at odds with most people my age, and most people in general. While I was reading and extensively watching movies and television shows, all of which had extensive impact on crafting my personality, other people were being angstily shaped by the things they were hearing.

I never got there, and I’ve come to realize – that’s weird. Which is why I like the conversations Caitlin and I have together, even though she often gets self-conscious because she feels like she’s talking at me. Really, it’s because I sit quietly and take in everything she has to say, and not because I don’t like the topic.

It feels like I’ve come a long way in musical development in the last nine months: further, likely, than in the last nine years. It’s one of the many bonuses of dating Caitlin. The test, I guess, will be her reaction to the mix tape. Regardless, her passion for music (and a lot of other things) is rubbing off. I love being in a relationship in which I’m always learning.

For anyone interested, here’s the playlist. Some of it’s a little weird, as it’s kind of a big inside joke, with much of it pertaining to us only.

“Chosen Carefully,” Caitlin’s birthday mix tape
1. “Who Will Comfort Me,” Melody Gardot
2. “Scattered,” Green Day
3. “Wish You Were Here,” Pink Floyd
4. “Molina,” Creedence Clearwater Revival
5. “Lips Like Sugar,” Echo & The Bunnymen
6. “Magic Dance,” David Bowie
7. “Anti-Gravity Love Song,” Incubus
8. “Stuck In the Middle With You,” Stealers Wheel
9. “Bad Things,” Jace Everett
10. “Just Like Heaven,” The Cure
11. “In Your Honor,” Foo Fighters
12. “The Perfect Drug,” Nine Inch Nails
13. “Please Read the Letter,” Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
14. “The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” Cyndi Lauper
15. “Love You Madly,” Cake
16. “I Will Follow You Into the Dark,” Death Cab for Cutie
17. “Sure As Shit,” Kathleen Edwards

Destruction and creation

I can’t seem to shake this sneaking, nagging desire to sell off all my junk.

The more I think about it, the more the boxes of random stuff I moved back from Chicago six months ago just annoy me. What’s really in there? Let’s run it down:

1. Toys
2. DVDs
3. Books
4. More toys
5. Video games

These things include my extensive collection of Mighty Muggs, a few action figures, some bobbleheads, and other knicknacks and odds and ends that looked fun scattered around my apartment.

After packing them all up, I realize how little I need of that stuff anymore.

The reality of it is, that stuff was a crutch for my identity. Movie memorabilia and old action figures no longer define me. I don’t need them (all).

I am somewhat loathe to part with my fairly huge DVD collection. I might salvage some or all of that. But my 50-inch TV, my $600 surround sound system, my numerous video game systems collecting dust, my three-foot replica “Gears of War” Lancer rifle — I just don’t feel the same attachment to them that I once did.

For one, they’re a pain to move, and what I’m really feeling right now is a need to go. The trip to NYC reawakened in me the notion that I don’t belong here and have never belonged here. Plus living with my parents (and by circumstances, Caitlin) isn’t awful, it’s just not independent enough.

I’ve always felt a need to go elsewhere. It didn’t work out with Chicago, but there were mitigating factors involved there that made that situation ultimately fail on every level.

Really, I had no reason to be there. I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t explore the city. I didn’t fulfill myself. I watched movies and did my job quietly in my living room. And while I was sitting around, unhappy and lost, large portions of the rest of my life were disintigrating. I wrote next to nothing in that city, and I realize now how soul-crushing that was.

In retrospect, I was unhappy a lot in Chicago, but I came through that fire much better off. Now I’m looking for a place where I can feel more at home. And I can’t be lugging needless material bullshit with me across this country.

The old life, the old me, is coming apart. I feel it every day. The things I wanted I don’t want anymore. The things that mattered don’t matter anymore. Whole new things matter now — most of all, forging ahead in the career that I really have always wanted. It’s not journalism, despite what I told myself as I trudged through my degree and various jobs out of college.

It’s time to declare total war on my life. I think the ceasefire will come when I relocate.

At the same time as I’m deciding that large portions of my life require destroying, creation is on my mind. I’ve spent more time blogging and writing in the last few months (mostly because Caitlin is an incredible inspiration) than in a long while. A lot of ideas are buzzing in my head.

The “Wrath of the Damned” project, for example, is going swimmingly. The @wrathofdamned Twitter account is a lot of fun, if not always the brainiest of literary exercises, but it’s like having a new prompt every day. I just finished what I’m thinking may be a final edit on “Defense of Self,” a new story for the “Wrath” blog, that I think is my current favorite of the pieces I’ve written.

“Millennium Men” is slow-going, but on my mind. When I finish the final edit of “Defense,” I’ll go back to work on the novel relentlessly. I have four or five stories just floating around in my head. And I keep thinking about buying notecards and poster board to create a moving, workable storyboard/outline that I can use to finally nail down exactly what I need to work on for the story.

Other writing projects include a pilot for a television show and a humorous time travel textbook I’m working on with Nick Hurwitch. We’re about to start a third draft of the script and this week, which includes a visit from Nick, will also include work on the time travel book to figure out how to pitch it to a publishing company, hopefully.

There’s more. My brain’s buzzing. I’ve finally discovered the software to run my webcam as a regular camera, and so now I’m bending my brainstorming muscle toward coming up with something to make out of all that technology.

On a more personal level, spending time with Caitlin constantly leaves me wanting to spend more time with her. We’ve talked about moving in together when her lease ends in the next six weeks or so. Really, the life I want to create, I think, is in Los Angeles. To work as a writer, and especially in film, that’s the place to go. Not to mention that the many projects I’m working on with Nick would be far easier to finish while in the same place.

But L.A. isn’t an option without Caitlin — what I want to create includes her, or doesn’t exist at all. We’ve talked about it and she’s willing to go. I haven’t worked out the logistics of the situation just yet, but that’s where I want to end up — provided she’ll go with me.

More than anything, of all the stuff that’s running through my mind, finding a way to make sure Caitlin is a part of my life is my biggest concern. Nothing else matters.

Out with the old, in with the new, I guess. I’ve never been this excited about the new.

Impressions of a Tragedy

The subway goes to the World Trade Center site again. For a while, it was closed.

We emerged from the station into the bright sunlight, like rats into a tight maze. To the right were the collossal buildings of New York City, static and strong despite their location. To our left was a bright blue fence, stretching eight feet high, covered in big photos at intervals of the spectacle that will one day be constructed on the site of the destroyed World Trade Center.

The entire corridor, which is what is created, was packed to the brim with people. Foot traffic flowed quickly, but it was tight and claustrophobic.

The sun was bright and hot because there was nothing to block it.

I was struck most by the disorganized chaos. We were quite literally walled off from the construction site of the Freedom Towers, and by extension, from the tragedy.

People bustled through, most totally untouched by their proximity to the site.

I, however, felt stained by it. I’d never seen the World Trade Center in person, but I felt the temporal shadow of those buildings and what happened stretching out over me. Others just hurried on about their business.

We walked the perimeter of the site, but there was no seeing in from street level. I felt a mix of disappointment and a dull, throbbing sort of anger. I couldn’t even see into the site. I didn’t see mourners or people even thinking twice about what they were walking past.

Finally we found an information kiosk that pointed the way toward the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. Pushed along by the river of indifferent humanity, we passed a man handing out photocopied maps that he’d highlighted.

“It’s history, it shouldn’t be a mystery,” the man shouted into the crowd. “Do you know what you’re looking at?”

That’s a good question, I thought, as the man was chided by people who must have regularly walked by. The only person I would encounter in New York who seemed at all passionate about the event, and he was treated like a joke.

We continued along the outside of the site, always accompanied by the blue fence. I stopped and studied some of the artists’ renderings of the Freedom Towers. Of course, these renderings included all the retail opportunities that would be present in these new, improved towers. Shops like Bulgari were included in the drawing. Quite a tribute.

But it wasn’t as disgusting as the street vendors who wheeled out coolers filled with water bottles available for a premium, or large piles of “tribute photos” of the World Trade Center. You can’t spell Capitalism with capitalize, I thought bitterly.

We passed the Visitor Center and pushed past to where one wall of a fire house had a large bronze wall plaque commemorating the rescue workers who died in the towers. A few people gathered around and snapped photos. But not many. A few other people hurried by, walking through photos without realizing or without caring, and without even glancing over.

A few moments later, we headed back to the Visitor Center. I flashed my student I.D. to get half off our tickets, despite no longer being a student of anything. I felt cynical and dishonest. I saved ten dollars.

We entered the gallery, which had a few too many people in it and seemed a little small compared to the size of the event. Caitlin and I walked along slowly, reading quotes on columns that made up a timeline of events stretching from the first attack on the Trade Center in 1993 to the aftermath of the event.

On the wall beside us were copies of various missing posters that had been found around the city during the tragedy. As we moved across the timeline, the fliers became thicker and closer together, until they papered the entire wall. We moved past a twisted steel girder and into a room where two entire walls were covered in photos and personal items from victims of the tragedy.

Caitlin started to cry. I held my composure, but only just barely.

We continued down a flight of stairs into the Visitor Center’s basement, past several thousand origami cranes, to a room that contained hundreds of fliers filled out by international visitors, detailing their feelings about the tragedy. Beyond that was more information about the Freedom Towers. And then we were back upstairs, passing the “gift shop,” which was sad first because it existed at all, and second because it was both pathetic and miniscule.

I pushed my way out of the building, Caitlin close behind. Clouds were rolling in over the WTC site. We dropped back into the flow along the sidewalk, passing the street vendors at a fast pace.

“What are you thinking?” Caitlin asked as we headed away.

I didn’t know what to tell her.

We stopped on a elevated walkway where, for the first time, there was glass between us and the construction site. Caitlin told me about the disrespect she felt she was seeing as the rubble had been swept up and placed off to the side, as she put it.

I didn’t know what I felt. I still don’t.

I held onto her for a long time and didn’t say anything. There was no closure here. There was no reconciling tragedy or paying respects to the dead. There was a tiny apartment that served as a museum and memorial, at ten dollars a ticket.

There was bustling by and pretending it never happened. There was building over top of a tragedy. Maybe that was the only way this city could have moved on.

For me, it feels like covering an amputated limb with a band-aid.

I’m more confused and disconnected now than ever.

Research trip: NYC

Halfway to New York, and I’m in the car working and now blogging. As I’m nearly to my destination and the purpose of this trip is directly related to my future as a writer and novelist, I feel like I should explain the trip’s significance.

I’ve already spoken about the trip’s conception, in a vague way. Allow me now to give that situation context.

I started about a year ago working on a series of short stories that eventually will compose a novel. The working title for the whole project is “Millennium Men.” It concerns a number of topics of great interest to me, and many feelings and conceptions about growing up as an American Midwesterner man at the turn of the century that I hold close to my heart.

The largest and most important of these is the effect of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, on me as a resident of Michigan, as an American, and as a young adult at the time. Ever since the tenth grade, when I sat in physics class, watching the event unfold on the class room TV, I’ve felt this sort of strange dichotomy about 9/11.

On the one hand, I feel a great deal about the national tragedy. In a very real sense, it’s still a fresh wound for me. But on a personal, individual-people-who-died-in-the-buildings sort of way. And NOT on a larger, I’m-an-American-and-we-all-grieve-together scale. I’ve never felt “connected” to the tragedy.

In “Millennium Men,” the climax of the story, and the experience of the main characters, has to do with coming of age in a climate where everyone is shaped by a series of events to which the characters feel no strong connections. They (and I) are actually shaped more by the ABSENCE of connection — to the tragedy, to the country, and to each other.

The characters in the novel travel to NYC to deal with how they feel about being American men, and their time at the WTC site is a key moment to the story I want to tell.

So I have to experience that myself, and get my own head on straight about the tragedy, before I can write about it.

That’s tomorrow. I honestly don’t know what to expect.

Caitlin M. Foyt, muse

All kinds of inspired the last two days. This very much the fault of one Caitlin M. Foyt, whose excitement to create is contagious. So I started a new zombie story in one document window, another houses half a story I’m working on for a separate short-story compilation project (called “Millennium Men,” and we’ll get to it later), and I’m interrupting both those projects to post here only one day removed from my last post. That sort of regularity is a little bit unheard of.

Chiefly what’s driving me is a rash of interesting new perspectives, most or all of which are borne out of a relationship with someone who is not only extremely interesting and in many ways different from me, but who is also a writer and sees the perspectives in those experiences that I see. Caitlin and I talk about things we’re writing kind of frequently. She is definitely inspiring, and what’s more, she’s enthusiastic.

Here’s a good example: The first night she and I saw each other (and spoke for more than 90 seconds) after our six months of more or less noncommunication, Caitlin remembered something I’d mentioned to her probably almost a year earlier. I’d planned to make a “research” trip to NYC to visit Ground Zero. The trip is directly related to “Millennium Men,” the short-story novel thing I’m working on. I was supposed to go with one Nick Hurwitch, but plans fell through and he moved out west. I never did make it to New York. And before long, I sort of forgot about that ambition.

But Caitlin remembered, and she remembered the passion and planning I had attached to the trip. And then she volunteered to go with me — right there, out of the blue, five minutes into seeing me again. I immediately accepted, which might have previously been out of character for me. But it’s a sort of spontaneity and belief in possibility that she creates and brings out in me.

So we’re going to New York next weekend, with nary a plan, hopefully a couch to sleep on, and with Ground Zero firmly in the sights. We’re also planning to hit D.C. for a visit with Frank Wiswell and (I hope) Abraham Lincoln.

I was excited to see these landmarks and to study the effect they would have on me for the sake of my fiction. I’m sure Caitlin’s presence is going to make everything I learn deeper, more poignant, and more interesting. Best of all, a person whose opinions and writing chops I seriously value will be right there with me to discuss all the crazy feelings I’m expecting it all to drum up in me (I’m weird about my American heritage and its affect on my life).

I cannot freakin’ wait.

…I’ll stop gushing now.