penbitten

So, I feel like I have to do this. I know everyone is writing about 9/11 and how we’ve changed, how scary it was, how we are now living in an age of terror.

But the most profound thing I read about 9/11, and the thing that made me shake my head and say “yes,” was this, from the New York Times web site:

“What is amazing is that in that moment, there was a moment before that we saw that plane, that second plane, and there was a moment after, and it’s like two different worlds, those two moments. I mean, literally, I can feel like I can remember the exact second when the whole world changed and my life changed forever.”

There was that moment, and whether you were watching on TV or live, whether it happened as you saw the plane slide into the second tower or you heard a newscaster or saw a newspaper or listened to a friend recount the story, you knew, as soon as you received the information, you knew your life had changed.

I detailed this day, very intensely, in my book. I was just graduated, unemployed, feeling hopeless and miserable about life in general. I felt fat. I felt like my life would never take up the promise that had been all but assured me on entering Georgetown. I felt like, for the first time, my decision not to go into medicine might have been a fatal mistake. And then my mother called, screaming, insisting that I turn on the television because there had been some sort of accident at the Twin Towers and we didn’t know where my sister was and she had to go – and the phone cut off. I tore out of bed and ran downstairs to find only one channel of television working.

And I saw it. One building on fire. An accident. A horrible accident. Those poor people, those poor people in the building. How horrible, how horrible that a plane happened to hit another structure full of innocent lives, I thought.

Until the black wasp, that shadow, appeared on the left side of the screen, slid into the second tower so smoothly, so effortlessly. That was it. That was the moment. There was a me before that moment and a me after that moment and they are vastly different people, even if I didn’t know it at the time.

Because how do you measure something that big as it’s happening? You don’t. My only way out into the world during that horrible day was the Internet. The Internet worked and that’s all I needed to know: I ran toward it and it ran toward me, filling my screen with messages of support, hope, and love, from this new tiny little community I had joined online: the Harry Potter fandom. They kept me going that day. They kept me sane and functioning. They helped me through not knowing where my sister was, not knowing where my father was, getting conflicting reports about the evacuations, thinking the White House had been hit, hearing there was another hijacked plane over Boston, from looking out my window in Staten Island and wondering when our little town would go up in flames.

I realize today that I think about that day a lot. There is the obvious change that won’t ever be lost on me: that on that day 10 years ago I was an unemployed college graduate with little career prospects who had barely dipped a toe into the Harry Potter world and now I am a New York Times bestselling author who runs several companies and is living in London part of the time, working on an official project of J.K. Rowling’s. I mean, this has not escaped me and I am grateful for my luck and the hard work I’ve done to foster that luck every day. (Luck is nothing without hard work, and for all the luck I’ve had I am more grateful than anyone knows that I learned early the value of hard work, or my life wouldn’t have taken these turns.)

But that day was about far more than a turning point for me personally. I think about being pinned to the computer and recognizing that the Internet wasn’t just a way to pass my jobless time. It could help, shape, change lives. That the things we put online and the way we interacted there mattered, that how we created and fostered and treated our community would mean a lot to people in very real ways.

I look today at all that has happened since, and not just with my personal career and life growth – but with Leaky, with the things we are doing with LeakyCon, with the partnerships we have made and communities we have helped bridge. I look at our charity work, which has – 100% literally – saved thousands of lives. I look at the people in Doctor Who costumes and going to Nerdfighter gatherings at LeakyCon. I look at the general tenor of LeakyCon, which was to provide people a place they could fully be themselves. At the live podcasts we’ve done, the sites we’ve created, the books we’ve written, the lives we’ve touched, the friendships we’ve enabled – all of it, at least for me, came from that day when I realized on some subconscious level that time spent creating an online home for fans was a worthwhile activity. It’s now the main focus of my life.

It’s my own little contribution to the truism that strength and prosperity can come from the hardest days. I don’t pretend to be even half as closely devastated by that day as those who lost people, those whose lives had severe personal or economic hardship since. I am one of the lucky ones. But I’m also lucky enough to have been close enough to it to witness and feel the change. Even if 9/11 is always a ghostly day of horror in my mind, what has come since has been a feeling of power, a feeling of importance in our everyday lives, a feeling that it can all be gone in an instant, and most of all a certainty, so deep and strong you never even have to acknowledge it, that the only way to honor those who lost everything is to live with everything you have.

My thoughts, prayers and love go out to all of you today.

—  Melissa Anelli, Penbitten.com

There was some funny banter this week on my twitter about Justin Bieber, in which I said I wanted to see “Never Say Never.” I meant it, I do. First of all, have you seen that little three-year-old drum? Second, this kid is a phenomenon, and I like to study phenomena. Third? Cute haircuts and good dancing.

As soon as I said it, a wave of hate and snark hit my @ replies, and it sparked some discussion on the concept of unjustified hate of pop culture and its deities. (It also prompted a joke about me writing ‘Bieber, A History,’ which prompted Jordan to make the funniest picture spoof of Harry, A History that I’ve ever seen.)

When I checked my Formspring I had a rather demanding question on the subject (though I suspect it was just a friend being snarky and funny, but it hit a nerve! So, apologies to anonymous friend, it’s not you, it’s me). I found myself ranting about how people get pissy about pop culture, and since it’s an important topic to me I’ve copied it below.


You want to see Never Say Never. Defend yourself.

No. Defend YOURself, anonymous! Justin Bieber, whether you like it or not, has had a ton to do with pop culture and actually IS an important figure in the narrative of how media and grassroots movements can shape our lives. His story is not irrelevant, and cannot be dismissed thanks to the pure power he holds over the landscape. But more than that, MUCH more than that, I just really hate it when people get snobby about pop culture. Highbrow doesn’t equal good – lowbrow doesn’t equal good – popular doesn’t equal bad – unpopular doesn’t equal good. It’s when we think that things that are wildly popular are inherently bad for that reason that we become really out of touch. Obviously whatever he’s doing is connecting with people on some level. Is it just that he’s a cute boy? No, I’ve heard some acoustic stuff, by all accounts the kid can sing. Is he just manufactured fluff by the recording industry? It would be easy to believe that were it not for this thing called youtube.

But it’s the Twilight argument – I may not love Twilight (and I don’t) but I’m not about to say that everyone who likes it owes me an explanation. It means something to them, therefore it has value. And I will never, NEVER, indicate that there’s no artistry in things that aren’t highbrow – there is, just of a different sort than people like to quote when they try to make themselves sound important.

I’m a curious person with a wide range of interests. I could recite all seven seasons of The West Wing to you, “Rhapsody in Blue” has the power to make me cry, and I could also do That’s What She Said Jokes with the masters of the world. I never want to become the person who scoffs at something that’s popular or deceptively light, or loses their sense of humor or appreciation for that which doesn’t have a place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art but DOES make a young person feel better about thier lives. If Justin Bieber makes a young person happier, who cares what I think? Who cares what the wine drinking critics of the world think? Something there has created value, and it’s that – it’s what causes THAT – that I find myself most interested in.

Love what you love, guys. Don’t let ANYONE tell you what you love is wrong or doesn’t have value. I spent a lot of time defending myself over this very thing with Harry Potter and let me tell you, it’s not worth it. Something that strikes a chord within you means something to you, period – anyone who can’t appreciate that, and can denigrate it, and can turn their nose up at you because of it, is not worth your time.

—  Melissa Anelli, Penbitten.com