June 16, 2014
More Thoughts on Twitter

I love Twitter. I’ve written at length before on why, and these reasons still hold up and are primary to my relationship with the platform. It is the central focus of my digital life and as important a part of keeping me informed and connected as e-mail, in some ways more important, while being far more entertaining, engaging and expansive than e-mail could ever be.

But Twitter is having some issues. The service is not growing and evolving the way some expected it to, the company is again grappling with leadership transitions, trying to attract new users and convincing them to stick around.

The recent round of As The Blue Bird Turns prompted me to reflect on how I engage with Twitter, how it has matured and its relationship with a new group of users that seem to have an experience far different than my own. Twitter has succeeded in becoming mainstream and mass, without question, the uncertainty is in where is goes from here.

I should say up top that I work in media relations, which puts me in the group of individuals (journalists and PR people) most likely to find Twitter indispensable. Many of those I come into contact with through my job love Twitter, use Twitter, don’t know what they would do without Twitter. I include myself in this, happily. I was at an event the other week at which one media luminary called it a “media chat room” and said, “I wake up with Twitter and I go to sleep with Twitter, but I know that’s not normal.” It’s plenty normal here.

In spring of 2009, Twitter co-founder Ev Willams visited the Oprah Winfrey show, did not jump on the couch and said that for Twitter to be successful they just had to get more people using it. Sign up and tell a friend, basically. Oprah joined and sent her first tweet while @ev was sitting right there. Had 100,000 followers by the end of the day and now has more than 24 million.

That appearance led to more mainstream awareness and, over time, many more celebrities and companies joining and using the platform to share content with people. I still shake my head in bemusement when I see a Very Significant News Story that includes a comment some Very Important Person made in a tweet. There is an account in the Pope’s name. As the NYT’s David Carr said, years ago, Twitter is now part of the plumbing, and that is no small thing. But once the pipes are built in a house, they don’t typically extend beyond it.

A few years ago, Twitter started telling people that tweeting was actually a secondary part of the experience. “You don’t have to tweet to be on Twitter,” the line went, and apparently today a high percentage of users never actually contribute to the communal experience by saying anything. There is no question that the explosion of notables, media outlets, brands and other interesting entities has made Twitter an engaging and valuable place to be, whether or not you decide to tell anyone about the sandwich you are eating or the story you are reading. But that’s not what the founders intended and the Twittering-Without-Tweeting dynamic connects users only to their timeline, not really to each other. When co-founder Jack Dorsey said he was “inviting coworkers” in one of the first tweets ever sent, he didn’t just mean so they could listen to other people, he meant so they could communicate with each other. It is called social media for a reason, after all.

Both the mobile and Web versions of Twitter feature a “Notifications” tab – a little indication that someone out there in the wilds of the Twitterverse has engaged with you in some way. Started following you, interacted with something you said or offered the Holy Grail of Twitter affirmation, the retweet. These are big moments on Twitter, indications of human contact and recognition. I wonder what it would be like to use the service for months on end and never see that little tab light up – bound to Twitter by nothing but the ability to overhear other people saying things. Maybe Twitter should forgo (or at least supplement) the LinkedIn-style update e-mails it has been sending of late and give users some on-platform love by lighting up the notifications tab every once in a while with a message to make people feel included and special.

If the connective tissue of Twitter is information and what other people are saying, even other people or entities you have indicated you care about, by definition that can’t be as strong as people linked to others through interaction and a combination of incoming and outgoing expression. I never got on the Facebook bus, but from what I understand the underlying (and inescapable) benefit is a connection to people you care about in your life – staying current with family members, friends and colleagues, sharing photos and general updates on where you are and what you are doing. And there is an exchange implied in the value proposition.

So, if Twitter wants to grow from here, it seems clear that it needs to focus on the things that bring its users together. I never understood the company’s failure to recognize the potential of Direct Messages (DMs) as a very powerful communications tool that had the ability to supplant e-mails and texts. They seem to be coming around on this, recently adding the ability to attach private photos to these missives, and maybe it’s not too late, in any event it seems a powerful part of the platform that should be explored and exploited. If 140 characters is sacrosanct for tweets, maybe DMs should be able to stretch beyond this limit. Maybe the default should be that users can DM anyone, until someone decides to selectively block that connection.

Twitter already has me, and people like me. It offers information, engagement and expression – an incredibly powerful and lasting combination, with immediacy that can’t be found in the same way anywhere else. The media-centric crowd will never leave and will be the ones left to turn out the lights if it ever comes to that. The trick to growth seems to be finding a way to appeal to the accountant for a car dealership in the Midwest. If his or her friends, family and co-workers aren’t using Twitter, if there’s no desire to interact with anyone on the platform and the sum total of the Twitter timeline is quasi-authenticity and quasi-ads from high-profile individuals who in many cases have been compelled to join for promotional purposes - and information generally available elsewhere - then I do wonder about its appeal and staying power with new converts. With the exception of super-fans and power-users, it does seem that Twitter needs to be more than the digital equivalent of a magazine full of pretty pictures and personalities to become sticky and central to people’s lives.

Or, maybe, it doesn’t need to grow in this way. Maybe Twitter can be the social media equivalent of Mad Men, an extraordinary and uniquely distinctive experience that reaches and resonates with a user base of plugged-in influencers advertisers and brands covet, a place where people who are very hard to reach, and who largely drive conversation and culture, happen to live. Facebook can be The Walking Dead, the #1 show on television, something for everyone, mass, and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo can get comfortable in Don Draper’s suit.

When Ev Williams went on the Oprah show five years ago, all Twitter had to do to grow and succeed was to get people to use it. Today, it seems like a certain kind of succeeding can be possible just by continuing to make the service great for its current users. But the kind of growth some are clamoring for will come by finding new ways to let those users, and millions more, connect not only with whatever is currently being talked about in the Global Town Square, but with each other.

February 20, 2014
Enjoy It

"My message to all the young guys would be, ‘Enjoy it.’ You know, I think it goes by quickly. It seems like yesterday when I was - well, I was drafted in ‘92, I was called up in ‘95 for the first time - and I’ve seen a lot of players come and go and you almost blink and it’s 20 years later. So, I’d say try to enjoy it as much as you can. Unfortunately, you can’t do it forever, you can’t play forever, there’s only a small portion of your life that you’re able to play this game. So, you know, enjoy each and every moment. For me, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should have … It worked for me but I think it’s just enjoy it as much as you can and try to share every experience with everyone that you care about." - Derek Jeter, 2/19/14

Caught the Derek Jeter “retirement” press conference he clearly wanted little part of on the radio yesterday and then watched a replay on TV. Thought this was the most meaningful and poignant thing he said - so universally true and applicable, but even more striking with Jeter, who has achieved so much, at such an uncommonly high level, as the spokesman.

One of the all-time greats, up there with icons like Ruth, Mantle, DiMaggio and Gehrig, looking back on a Hall of Fame career and noting that it went by in a blink and he wished he’d enjoyed it more. The whole idea of the importance of living/enjoying in the moment reminded me of that line in the Steve Jobs Stanford commencement address about looking in the mirror every morning and asking yourself whether what you were about to do was what you would want to do with the last day of your life - and changing things up if the answer was “no” too many days in a row.

I’ve hit on this theme here before, but Jeter’s comments yesterday were an authentic and welcome reminder, from a guy sitting at a table answering questions on a mountain of success few will ever see, with one season of baseball left and then it’s into the history books, no way to go back to the beginning and do it all again.

From the smallest incremental step, to a career, to a life - it all goes by so fast. Listen to The Captain, and don’t forget to enjoy it.

October 6, 2013
Roasted Red Goodness

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We love roasted red peppers. On a homemade pizza, sharing space on a plate with a piece of fresh mozzarella drizzled with olive oil, balsamic and sea salt, on top of scrambled eggs, there’s nothing better than this unique blend of savory and sweet.

But we’d never made them ourselves. Until a couple of weeks ago, they were something we got from Italian delis called “pork stores” or jars.

Then, I agreed to be pizzaiolo at my godson’s birthday party, and his mother (my sister Connie, actually her name is Kristen) brought some homemade roasted red peppers as one of the toppings.

It’s an intimidating looking and tasting ingredient, it just seems like there has to be some magic in there that is hard to pull off, but there really isn’t.

When you Google “roasted red pepper recipe,” the first thing that comes up is Ina Garten’s version, and we haven’t seen a reason to move off it, although we did add an important modification* that has, to invoke another great Food Network stalwart, taken things up a notch.

Here are seven steps to roasted red deliciousness:

1. Pre-heat an oven to 500 degrees.

2. Wash and dry 4-6 red peppers, put them on a baking tray.

*3. Take one or two heads of garlic and make a slice across the top, about a half inch down, exposing most of the cloves inside. Place them on the same tray, drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some sea salt on top of the head.

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4. Put the tray in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the peppers are charred and a little shriveled. Use tongs to turn them every 10-15 minutes so multiple sides come in contact with the hot metal of the tray.

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5. Remove from the oven, use oven mits to wrap the tray in tin foil and let stand for about 30 minutes, until the peppers are cool enough to work with.

6. Separate the peppers from their skins and stems, use a knife to cut about 4-6 slices per pepper, remove and discard the seeds.

*7. Squeeze out the garlic from the head(s) and combine with the pepper slices and a little good olive oil in a jar or a bowl.

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According to Ina, these can keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. We’ve never gotten that far, the ones we’ve made have never lasted more than a day or two, which seems like a good sign.

August 25, 2013
O Canada

We’ve been trying to introduce the girls to a new city every year, usually in spring or summer. Last few years we’ve knocked off Washington, Chicago, Boston and Miami, to go along with our frequent family excursions into the greatest city of them all, NYC.

Hadn’t really worked out a plan for this summer, but then the stars aligned for a week off work and a possible drive to see neighborhood friends who were going to be vacationing in northern Vermont. Suddenly Montreal - a place we’d never visited - came into view. Just say the word to anyone who has been (as we did to many trusted guides over the last several weeks) and what follows is near universal affirmation… special, charming, historic, European, a Europe you can drive to!

So, we hit the road and did our overnight visit in the Smugglers’ Notch area of VT (which was a revelation all its own) and then set out for the two-hour trip north from there to Montreal. It was interesting driving across an international border, I got to feel like an extra in the film Traffic for a moment, minus the contraband and Michael Douglas.

We spent three nights in what turned out to be a very charming, beautiful place - with plenty to do, see and eat. A few highlights:

Bagels

Coming from New York, you’re not expecting to go looking for bagels in another city that in any way elevate the art form, and I don’t think the ones we found really got there, but it was a worthwhile exercise and they were very good in their own way - slightly sweeter dough, less of a crunchy outer shell, very good and high-quality toppings.

The bagel making in Montreal seems to all happen in an area of the city called Mile End. We did a taste test at two places: Fairmount Bagel and St-Viateur Bagel. Both old school establishments, workers cutting strips off a huge mound of dough and hand-rolling bagels that are boiled, topped and baked. Fairmount has been in operation since 1919, St-Viateur since the 1950s. Two amazing living monuments to authenticity, quality and care. The oven area in Fairmount looked exactly like the one in our favorite pizza place, Frank Pepe Pizzeria in New Haven, CT - which has been cranking out some of the greatest pies in the world since 1925. The uncanny similarity actually inspired a little Instagram mock-up. Montreal is a great walking city, which we kept reminding the kids as we tried to walk off our little carb overload.

Olympics

Some of us on the trip were old enough (just) to vaguely remember Kim Kardashian’s step-father doing some cool stuff in Montreal one time. The old Olympic Stadium is worth a visit, you can tour it (we didn’t, but I think that was a miss), instead we went through one of the buildings used in the Olympics that has been converted into a Biodome, basically a walk-through zoo featuring different climates. Interesting if you are out there and pretty well done for what it was, not a game changer. The city’s botanical garden is across the street from the Olympic Stadium and was worth seeing, mainly for its large statues made of living plants. You can also pay to take a ride up to the observatory on top of the Olympic Tower, which offered a very good view of the city in every direction.

The language barrier was not much of an issue in Montreal, with the exception of a few cab drivers who either legitimately or deliberately seemed not to understand English. When we got into a taxi and asked to be taken to the city’s “botanical garden” the driver looked at me with an expression that approximated total blankness. When I tried to get an actual address through Google Maps and blurted out “jardin botanique” (Thanks, Larry and Sergey) the guy suddenly started affirmatively nodding like he was a castaway on Lost who had just been told he was getting off the island.

Poutine

I’m not sure it’s possible to describe this signature Montreal dish to someone who hasn’t experienced it in a way that doesn’t result in distress and doubt. Just say the word “curd” to most people and their faces sort of scrunch up into a twisted mask that does not scream, “Wow, sounds amazing!” Let’s just say that this combination of french fries, gravy, cheese curds (further accessorized on a case-by-case basis) is incredible, and maybe worth the trip just on its own. We had our first poutine experience on our first night in the city, dinner at a really excellent restaurant called Le LocaL, and it was tremendous. Then, a couple nights later, we went to Garde Manger and had the version that helped local (and now Cooking Channel) notable Chuck Hughes beat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef as the cornerstone of the best meal we had in Montreal, and a top three meal across all of these city trips, sandwiched between Topolobampo in Chicago (truly epic, all hail Rick Bayless) and Yardbird in Miami. Poutine, poutine, poutine, remember this word.

Odds And Ends

The Notre-Dame Basilica (pictured above) does an evening light show that is interesting and offers some good information on the city and how it came to be. Spoiler alert, it starts with 35 people in a boat from France and no iPhones to communicate with the homeland. The basilica is also in the historic Old Montreal district, which is beautiful and has the charming, European feel everyone we asked prior to our arrival was talking about - gorgeous old buildings, narrow winding cobblestone streets, special and rare, especially so close to home.

Schwartz’s Deli is a must. We are generally partial to places where people line up for food, and this was no exception. If you want to cut the line (we did, twice) just duck into the little take-out section, order up your smoked meat sandwich and you can grab a little counter space in the back. Truly outstanding.

Our last scheduled day in the city was the kind of rainy, dreary mess you really don’t want to see on vacation, and it kept us from a few activities that were on our agenda - a boat cruise out in the water that rings the city, a visit to what we heard is an excellent farmers’ market (Jean-Talon Market) in Montreal’s Little Italy section, and an exploration of Mount Royal Park. We also would have loved to have dug into the neighborhoods a little bit more. We basically ate well and covered the tourist high points, but not sure we really got into the place the way we were able to on some of these previous trips. The local soccer team was out of town, if we’d had the chance we definitely would have taken in a game. The good news is, there will definitely be another opportunity. Montreal is worth a second trip.

February 24, 2013
Of Mail Electronic

People love to hate on e-mail. I find this kind of amazing, given how essential it has become in our lives and how much better it is as a communications tool than anything that came before.

I sent my first e-mail in 1994. Work account, not sure I had ever truly considered the odd @ sign on the keyboard before that. I remember being on the phone with a friend who lived across the country and batting back and forth our own versions of “Mr. Watson, come here” messages with the click of a button, amazed they were actually showing up on the other side. “You know, we can attach documents to these things,” he said at one point, a notion that was beyond my ability to comprehend at the time. How would we do that? Where do the pages go? Won’t they fall off?

And now, it seems universally despised. This advance that replaced the ludicrously inefficient process of picking up the phone and actually demanding to speak with someone, right then, to exchange thoughts or information. This thing that took the last real example of jaw-dropping communications technology, the fax machine, and rendered it completely obsolete. This thing that turned the Postal Service into the Pony Express.

Why is this so? I’m taking a shot here, but let’s start with the sheer volume of messages we receive, and how few we actually care about. Quick scroll through Twitter and you’ll find no shortage of sophisticated and technologically aware people venting and flirting with declaring e-mail bankruptcy - a mass delete that results in a kind of First World nirvana known as in-box zero.

Spam, phishing, chronic “reply all” offenders, there are plenty of systemic downsides to this particular form of interaction, to living at an address with a @ in the middle of it that a whole host of nefarious characters can find, barrage, hack or otherwise abuse.

But, to me, that hardly makes up for the enormity of the advance that e-mail represents as a communications tool. Biz Stone went on Charlie Rose with Ev Williams a couple months ago to talk about their new platform, Medium. But the most interesting and true thing he said had to do with e-mail:

“E-mail is like the most intimate witness to our lives, in some capacity, and yet it hasn’t changed since the days of Hotmail and before. We keep files in there, we share pictures of our kids in there, there are receipts in there. E-mail knows a lot about our lives. I’ve been dying for someone to recreate e-mail and just come at it from a completely different angle. Like, show me all the pictures in my e-mail as a photo album right now. Show me all the Excel spreadsheets. Just present it to me in a different way … it’s ripe for reimagining, and someone will do it.”

Biz is right. Again. Particularly in an age of social media and selective sharing, e-mail is true, e-mail is real, e-mail is us. It’s the most accurate and unfiltered version of ourselves, at least the part that relates to corresponding and sharing with others.

Our first personal e-mail accounts were on AOL, like everyone else. Accessed via dial-up modems on Dell computers. Think about that, our primary link to a Web-enabled world was placed in the hands of AOL, Dell and dial-up modems over telephone lines, and it still felt magical. The first real advance we experienced in electronic communications, after the arrival of “always-on” cable modems around 2000, was getting on Gmail in 2005. A revelation. Essentially unlimited storage, messages didn’t auto-delete after a few days, a truly “searchable” archive, clean and functional design. We loved it, stopped paying AOL and never looked back. We had the best e-mail service in the world, and have enjoyed it for years, without ever spending a dime or clicking on an ad - but that’s probably another post.

And the messages piled up. Hundreds, thousands, we lost count, lost control. The occasional mass delete, clicking boxes on dozens of Google Alerts and e-commerce solicitations that missed the mark. But the database was always there, growing, “managed” in name only, like a garden hose waved vaguely in the direction of a California brush fire. Like walking through life hauling the digital equivalent of Santa’s sleigh behind you.

The second great advance in the relatively short history of e-mail was mobile. Suddenly, we could carry our in-boxes around with us, on our person, liberated from the desktop and able to correspond from anywhere.

The combination of Gmail and mobile leads to the third great advance in our e-mail experience, an iPhone app named Mailbox, specifically designed (for now) to be used with Gmail accounts.

A few weeks ago, the cool kids on Twitter were buzzing about this new application, which was taking reservations for accounts. I threw my name on the list, about 100,000 people ahead of me. Waited my turn and, upon activation and a tap of the screen, my entire Gmail account was archived – I had a clean in-box for the first time since, well, 2005.

It was a little jarring at first, to see this comprehensive database just disappear, but the messages were still there, they just weren’t in my face every time I went into my e-mail account. It was a fresh start, a new beginning. A better version of bankruptcy, one that didn’t result in credit problems or having to hire a lawyer.

The whole objective of Mailbox, as far as I can see, is to give users the tools to maintain this important state of equilibrium. Messages arrive and are dealt with through three basic swipes that – respectively – archive the message, delete the message or snooze the message, which is then delivered again after a period of time you designate. Deal, delete, or delay.

The vast majority of the mail I get falls into the instant delete category, so I rarely opt for the snooze function, but it’s a terrific and customizable option. The whole experience has changed my perceptions of e-mail management. I feel like this communications tool, incredibly important in my life, is finally under control and able to be processed in an orderly and effective way.

This is what my in-box usually looks like now, and I hope it never changes.

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I’m all done.

Please, someone, quick, send me a message. I know just what to do with it.

January 24, 2013
"He was my best friend for 25 years, and he’s just irreplaceable. Irreplaceable in our industry and irreplaceable as my friend … I have great respect for that company. I have great respect for Tim Cook. But, I’ll say it again, Steve’s irreplaceable. We’ve all lost something. He was our Edison, he was our Picasso, there’s no one like him. Apple will continue to thrive, but not like when Steve was around."

— Larry Ellison, to CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, Oct. 2, 2012

January 21, 2013
Some sand, some water and some lounges. Missing Aruba already.

Some sand, some water and some lounges. Missing Aruba already.

December 28, 2012
Permanence

We were lucky enough to go to the recent 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief, a six-hour benefit show featuring a pretty incredible lineup that Mick Jagger described from the stage as the “largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden.”

As we sat there, watching Bruce Springsteen, Roger Waters, Eric Clapton, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, The Who and others captivate 20,000 in the arena - and many millions watching on televisions around the world - with songs that were written 25, 30 and even 40+ years ago, I started thinking about permanence.

Here were artists who had worked out these words and melodies on paper in the 60s and 70s, basically as kids, up there on the stage - themselves in their 60s and (almost) 70s, performing for people who had made their creations part of their lives. People who had saved up to go to record stores to buy them, waited to hear them played on the radio, obsessed over the lyrics and stared at the cover art, featured them at weddings, parties, memorial services and alone in the car on cross-country drives and trips to the deli.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether this kind of experience would even be possible, decades from now, in the fast and fragmented media world we’re living in - with Pandora streaming, status updates, thoughts expressed in text messages, 140-character Tweets, photos that are filtered, posted, “liked” and largely forgotten. Words, sounds and images that are precious to us held in the cloud, instead of in our hands.

Forty years from now, who would take the nostalgic place of The Who doing Baba O’Riley or Roger Waters singing Another Brick in the Wall? The “reunited for one night only” Jonas Brothers? Taylor Swift rolling through We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together?

"Oh, I remember this song, I bought it on iTunes in the summer of 2012 and played it non-stop for about three weeks until Kesha came out with something new, and that got me to Labor Day. You should follow me on [insert 2052 version of Instagram], by the way."

Really? There will always be stars, of course, but will there always be this sense of established and communal history?

Music served as a vessel for this particular observation, but the notion of fleeting permanence can be applied much more broadly. Almost across the board, things have gotten easier, more efficient and productive, but also more transitory. There has clearly never been a better time for taking and sharing high-quality photos. The family vacation to Florida that used to produce four rolls of 35 millimeter film, the trip to the drug store to get them developed and discover eight decent images now comes home as 368 digital files, sorted and culled right there on the lounge between sips of slushy drinks. Easily exchanged via e-mail, thumb drive, social media or DVD slideshow.  But when’s the last time you sat on the couch and flipped through an album, and what happens if the hard drive fails?

Remember saving the newspaper the morning after your team won a championship, or some historic event happened, when you were a kid? What’s the modern version of that? Is there one? “Yeah, that was a great story, I have a link bookmarked somewhere, I think. No, not there, you’re in Safari, I was on Firefox when I read it, or maybe Chrome.”

Print to digital, 500 channels instead of 12 - all better, all improved, all letting us move faster than ever in a thousand different directions, but where are those long-established shared and lasting moments going to come from, decades from now? Does it matter? Are they necessary?

A part of me thinks they are, thinks they give all of us something to hold onto that’s bigger and more significant than the second we’re in, or the one five minutes ago. Connective tissue. A rich and continuing narrative.

One of the unexpectedly unifying moments in the 12-12-12 show happened pretty early, when Jon Bon Jovi urged the crowd to take lead vocal on the chorus of Livin’ On A Prayer, a song released in 1986. Everyone knew the words, and the building thundered back at this aging rocker.

Whooah, we’re half way there
Whooah, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, we’ll make it - I swear
Whooah, livin’ on a prayer

Hold on, what did that guy say again? I want to Tweet this.

December 1, 2012

thedailyfeed:

Ah, 2012, the year we named people after popular electronics.

This year’s list of popular baby names is here! And Apple, Mac and Siri all moved up the list.

Good to see both “our” names are still top 10. Madison was already mainstream when we chose it in 2001, like to think we helped drive the revival of Ava, nine years ago.

(via thedailyfeed)

November 4, 2012
Disasters Big And Big

(Northport Harbor, L.I., morning of October 30, 2012)

Like many others in the Northeast, over the last several days we have been dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which rolled through our quiet community in an unquiet way early last week, knocked out power almost immediately and knocked down many trees after that.  Our house is still dark, our neighborhood slightly shell shocked, normalcy returning, slowly.

Living through Sandy got me thinking about the disasters I’ve experienced in my life, natural and man-made.

The Northridge earthquake threw me out of my Sherman Oaks bed early on the morning of January 17, 1994. I’d moved to California a few years earlier and had encountered a few quakes by then, but usually the shaking stopped right around the time you noticed it. Not this time. When this one was over I was crawling around my apartment in the dark, trying to navigate shelves and furniture that had tumbled onto the floor, broken dishes and other debris. Finally found a small transistor radio, you’d be amazed how reassuring and life-affirming an authoritative voice in the dark can be.

Instinctively made my way to my car in the garage below the building (bad idea, I know) and drove to the Ventura County bureau of the newspaper I worked for to try to put the office back together and start getting “color,” which back then amounted to asking shell-shocked people to describe what they experienced and how they felt, and then phoning it in to the desk. If the scene played out today I would have been Tweeting and Instagramming away, in the mid ‘90s the process involved a pad, a pen and a payphone.

I remember driving along Ventura Boulevard on my way out of The Valley and seeing all the smashed plate glass widows in front of the businesses, people standing together outside apartment buildings in their pajamas. Virtually everyone I knew was back East, and my building near the epicenter had not yet been deemed safe to return to, but by the end of the day I found my way to the small circle of friends I had out there and we coalesced around a uniquely jarring experience and some wine.

Seven years later, I’m married and living in New York City, we have a six-month-old and I’m waking into my Midtown office building when I notice a small group of people huddled around a radio outside – not a typical sight. Exit the elevator into the lobby of the PR firm I’m working for and find my colleagues crowded around the television bank, watching two tall buildings burning.

We went to our offices and stayed for a while, at one point someone rushed by and said “the Pentagon just got hit,” which just seemed otherworldly. No one knew what was happening, or what we were dealing with. The buildings came down, we watched it together, and then everyone left.

When I hit Fifth Avenue and looked downtown I saw a cloud of smoke that looked exactly like the huge brush fires I used to cover in California. Could not believe what I was seeing. Mass transit was completely shut down by then, I walked to our apartment on 79th Street and later that night my sister and her boyfriend, now husband, joined us and we sat close to each other and watched Rudy Giuliani on the television tell us everything was going to be OK. More wine. 9/11, a most unnatural disaster, but a disaster all the same.

About a year ago, with Hurricane Irene bearing down on Long Island, we slept in the basement with our two daughters just in case the huge trees around our house had any ideas about joining us.  They didn’t, but Irene knocked out our power for most of a week. I got tied up with work and the girls drove east to stay with my parents, who had electricity, and made the best of it as I returned to a dark house at night and wandered around with candles and flashlights.

And then, Sandy. We were as ready as you can be, parked the fully-gassed cars in the garage, stocked up on bottled water, ice and batteries, watched the wind blow for most of Monday afternoon, saw that half a tree had come down into a neighbor’s yard and headed down to the basement for another night of unsettling sounds and uneasy sleep.

Woke up Tuesday and joined others gingerly wandering around our neighborhood with cameras, taking shots of downed trees and wreckage that made Irene look like amateur hour. Two doors down a car was crushed by an enormous oak that fell across the road in a snarl of power lines – a particularly dramatic but not at all incongruous image that morning.

School was canceled and the girls drove up to Vermont Wednesday morning, joined there by my parents. After a week of basically round-the-clock work, I wound up spending the weekend with my two sisters, in the home of the one of us whose house had power.

Four disasters, all big, all different, but all ending in the same place, with people coming together, friends and family in the foreground, leaning on each other and finding a way through.

As off-key and ill-timed as Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back” comment was in response to the BP oil spill, there’s an undeniable vein of truth that runs through it when it comes to people trying to recover from a disaster and endure. We all just want our lives back. We want a return to normalcy. And, more often than not, we find it first in the people closest to us.

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