Michael Rosen


The years after my business was destroyed have become "What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse." Before that, I wrote pretty okay academics (I'm proud of "Turning Words, Spinning Worlds"), a hard novel and poetry...

What Else But Home

I began What Else But Home without knowing. September 11, 2001 destroyed my business; we were safe, physically, but our office was a block and a half south of the Towers, facing Rector Street and the path of the second plane; perfect views of the tragedy and destruction. Our elected officials visited "Ground Zero," made daily pronouncements, certainly helped families of those who perished and promised aid to those of us whose businesses and livelihoods had vanished. But if you worked in or had a small business there--a shoe store, small restaurant, magazine shop, a small design or law firm, you received absolutely nothing. And your business was gone.

Except I received a lesson... in love & responsibility: after the TV news is finished, the video of some government person saying "We're here to help" is over, it's our responsibility to take care of each other. Our families, our friends, our communities. Whether it's September 11 or Hurricane Katrina, we put each other back together.

I started writing a book then, about the front room of a restaurant down the block. Neighbors came there to be with each other. Ripton, Morgan, Kindu, Carlos, William, Juan, Philippe, Leslie and Mr. Jenkins used to stop by--it is a French bistro, the owers didn't think puppies were dirtier than us--to play cards and spend time also with my friends; John Howard, Butch Morris, Blue, Dimitri, Daniel Bell. My friends brought friends.

I started including my sons and the bigger boys (who were also becoming "sons") in that book, and suddenly they seemed the most important part of it.

Which I still couldn't see till Gidon Kunda and Ileene Smith said so.

The most important things are often here already--maybe we're already touching them--the things we love and are responsible for. That was my lesson, in what I've come to understand as compassion, judgment and spirituality.

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Turning Words, Spinning Worlds

This book came as a surprise. I'd left academics to become a real estate developer; our office was in an old factory in Soho before that neighborhood became fashionable. It had rough wooden floors, brick walls, arched windows and tall ceilings to fit the looms. We'd find sewing needles between floorboards, the ones industrial machines used. A fire emergency sign was still nailed up in the stairwell, baked enamel on steel, in Yiddish. My great grandfather, his brothers and sisters could have worked there.

We'd plugged our computers into dialup modems, state of the art then, and started using email. I wrote with some of my old professor friends, people in California, Israel, England, and got nearly instantaneous emails back. It's hard now to imagine how extraordinary that was. It's like our younger son Morgan, some years ago, asking me, "Dad, when you were young, was the Internet in color?"

I received an email from a professor in Sweden, asking if she and her colleagues could publish a collection of my academic writings--pieces that had come out in journals and edited books. I was overjoyed; in my academic career, I'd pursued publication of each piece like pushing a rock up hill--no one ever came asking. Oh my, my work was good, I was smart... then, oh no, I'm academically dead. Because a collection of an academic's work is published once he's passed on.

That's okay. I'm happy at what academics allowed me to learn; for the teachers, colleagues and students I had.

One of the prefaces to the book says: "This collection represents Michael Rosen's encounter with an 'ethnography of the center'-the study of cultural orders in the heart of the metropolis. Considers occupational worlds from finance and advertising to the subworld of drug dealing."

That seems fair.

The book is in print, and you can find it used.


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