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September 7, 2002

Coming up on a year
Posted by Teresa at 11:25 AM *

For a while there I figured 9/11/02 would just be a date, a marker. I was wrong. The memory and the sorrow of it have fallen back upon me.

I hear it’s more or less impossible to turn on your TV without running into yet another program about the day. I am coping with this by ignoring TV. I don’t care what they’re doing. I haven’t been watching. Let the news media cope with their traumas their own way: loudly, in questionable taste, and at excessive length. I don’t care. They’re not my problem. This is me, my neighbors and my friends and my city. A year ago tomorrow I stood on the roof of my building and watched the towers burning. All that day the wind blew straight from Ground Zero to my street, tiny particles of dust and ash mixed with holocaust smoke that smelled like burned plastic. At evening, the cooling column of smoke rained down scraps of scorched paper.

(We wrote about this at the time: how I went up the street to get more snacks and beer—friends were turning up at my place, nobody wanted to be alone—and on the corner at the head of my block I found a single page from a paperback book. It was scorched around all four sides, and the running head said A Season in Hell.)

I noticed an odd thing in the days and weeks that followed. You’d see little knots of people standing out on the sidewalks, talking, and as they talked they’d all gradually turn so they could look in the direction of Ground Zero—most of them unconsciously, I think. Even when it was out of sight, even in the outer boroughs, you knew exactly where it was, which direction; it was like you could feel it there, this locus of terrible sorrow and anger.

I don’t care what the news media are doing right now. This isn’t about them.

Yeah, those al-Queda SOBs blew up an international symbol, but they also blew up part of my living-and-working city and a bunch of my fellow New Yorkers. I’ll never again get out at Cortlandt Street station and walk past the Warner Store and The Gap and the Discovery Store and the good coffee place with the stuffed bears in the window, cut through the big white marble WTC lobby and up their escalator (saying hello to the security guards), then cross the street via gerbil tube to the Winter Garden and make a left turn through the WFC to get to Ellie Lang’s place. Everything between Cortlandt Street station and the Winter Garden is gone. I’ll never again walk out the front door of Ellie’s building at night and look up to see the towers looming just beyond the roofline of her building’s courtyard, normal domestic apartment windows set against that astounding mega-artifact, the whole thing together looking like a Jim Burns cover painting. I always meant to get a photograph of that view.

Looking up at it was one of the first things I did in AD 2000.

Just getting Cortlandt Street station back has been a struggle. The first time I felt like normal life was starting to come back again was when they got the N and R running on their old route, but it’s meant we’ve been commuting through (past? under?) a mass gravesite twice a day. (That was another marker: The first time I didn’t smell that burnt-plastic reek as soon as the doors opened at Canal Street.)

At first and for a long time thereafter, the station was full of heavy upright timber supports, spaced closely together, connected to each other by 4x4 cross-ties and heavy hardware fastenings. They looked like the bottom half of a singularly unfortunate grove. On the platforms on both sides of the station, big hand-lettered signs said DON’T STOP HERE, to keep subway conductors who’d driven that route for decades from automatically making the stop.

After they’d gotten the roof shored up level again—that downward bulge was profoundly disturbing—the spookiest thing was the farecard machines. They stayed on the whole time. As the months went by, their internal computers crashed, one by one, changing their previous displays to the blue screen of [word left out]. A few times when I passed through the overhead lights were dimmed, and the station was lit by the bluish glow of those screens.

It was worse the day our train passed through and there was sunlight shining down into the station entrance. I’d known what was beyond that point, but my imagination didn’t encompass it, and so the old concourse was somehow still there for me. I hadn’t realized it until that moment.

I saw Ground Zero and 7 WTC several times right after it happened, and the memory still grabs me by the throat. You’ve seen pictures. That’s enough.

I talk about the architecture and infrastructure because it’s easier than talking about the people.

I have three friends who could have been in range. Two were late to work, and the third couldn’t get an exterior door unlocked in time to walk outside and get hit by the debris from the second explosion. Nobody I know was killed, and only one person I know had to be put back together again. One step past that, the friends of friends, the hecatombs start.

That was another set of markers. We all have people we know in one context and another. For a while, every time you made contact with one—your doctor’s office staff, the neighborhood garden club, the regular fans who come to all your gigs—there was this anxiety: Is anyone missing? Have they been heard from? Is everybody okay? Over and over again.

Here’s another marker: the first time I saw a flyer with somebody’s face on it that didn’t say “Have you seen85?” It was a normal business flyer advertising cheap head shots for models and actors. Those used to be fairly common. For a while they disappeared entirely. They’re only now starting to come back.

Normal has been hard to get to. I remember seeing someone ranting about how offensive it was to refer to the event as 9/11 rather than—I forget, I think they favored “The Attack on America”. They thought this represented a craven attempt to cover over and forget the events of the day, Which Should Always Be Remembered. The minute I saw that, I knew the writer didn’t live in the city. When you’re chatting with a friend about recent reconfigurations of the subway system, or where’s a good place to buy your t-shirts now, or when you’re downtown and you’re trying to remember where you can buy Ibuprofen or find a public bathroom, you don’t want to have to bring it all to mind again, that whole terrible mess of blood and tangled steel and documents mixed with pulverized concrete, TV newscasts showing it again/BOOM/and again/BOOM/and again/BOOM like they’re shaking some kind of horrible snowglobe over and over.

It’s not like we’re going to forget it. That is not the problem.

Normal was hard, but I thought we had a partial hold on it. After the day, after a while—weeks, months—we gradually managed to move on to other subjects, the kind we used to talk about before it happened. But increasingly over the past few weeks we’ve gone back to compulsively remembering, compulsively talking about it, the stories and memories battening onto us like a bunch of ghosts marking their first birthday.

Some of the stories getting told now are the ones people couldn’t bear to tell or to hear told last fall. They lodge in the mind. I’ll never be able to stop knowing what fell on the WTC plaza and the roof of St. Nicholas’ church that day, when the towers were burning but not yet down. I’m grateful I climbed down from my roof before I had to see the towers collapse. I’m infinitely grateful I didn’t see it any closer. Some of the people who saw that happening up close were little kids. Who cares what the media’s doing? This isn’t about them.

You can read the details of that stuff somewhere else.

I need to say this one thing: I am more grateful than I can possibly say that on the day, I had the opportunity to do a few small things that helped other people. It was a great blessing, and did more to get me through 9/11 than anything else.

Here’s something I know a lot of people are doing tomorrow: They’re going to go to places and get together with people they couldn’t get to on the day. Ellie Lang says she’s getting together with a bunch of people from her gym. I’m probably going in to Tor, where I desperately wanted to be last year, when my people there walked out on foot, miles and miles in some cases, to get to their distant apartments, find their children at their schools, find a working phone, find a subway connection to another connection to another connection in the hope of somehow getting home to Brooklyn or Queens or New Jersey.

Here’s the public stuff: Tomorrow the fife & drum corps of the departments that lost people will march in from the outer boroughs, a long march starting very early for some of them, and there’ll be a service at the site. Nobody’s giving any new speeches, just reading a couple of old ones we’re all fond of. There’ll be uncountably many other memorial services in the city, with a whole second wave of them towards nightfall. About a zillion candles will be lit. I’ll be out there with my neighbors, not because the media is making a big fuss about it, but because we need to do it, and want to be there.

Hint: All that candle-lighting memorial stuff last fall? Nobody organized that. It happened because we needed to do it. And believe me, when you’re walking through the West Village and come across a circle of West Villagers holding candles and singing patriotic songs, you know it’s something they need to do.

I have not the slightest doubt that some of tomorrow’s observances will be overdone, by some people’s tastes. We do that here. I also have not the slightest doubt that the news media will say some stupid things about it. Repeat after me: What the news media does is not my problem. This is not about them.

Have your own memorial observances, however you like to observe them. It wasn’t just us here in New York, or the United States. This one hit everybody. There are a lot of you out there grieving. You should get together with your neighbors.

(Okay, three links. I like this one and this one, and of course this one.)
Comments on Coming up on a year:
#1 ::: Lydia Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2002, 05:21 PM:

One of the things that I found very comforting on the day, and in many of the days following, was the simple and authentic coverage. The event overwhelmed almost everyone, and the news reporters and staff provided information; nothing is so comforting as information in a crisis. They were too stunned to be anything but human. This wasn't an event that they had rehearsed, it wasn't like anything they were prepared for. Even Guiliani couldn't manage to be anything more -- or less -- than a real person.

Gradually, the authenticity faded. The raw edges were eroded smooth, the open wounds sewn shut; they built myths and created heros, and covered them with sentimentality -- and then attacked the myths and pulled down the heroes, but that's life in modern America..

I don't like sentimentality. I'm probably too cynical for my heart's health (speaking strictly in a cardiologic sense). I still can't talk about 9/11 without choking up, and starting to weep. It's an interesting phenomena, and the fact that I observe it still is probably an indication that I haven't half dealt with my emotions from the day.

The studied, indeed rehearsed performances that the media is presenting are not comforting to me. For my own reasons, they infuriate me. However, they are not about me, just as the anniversary is not about the media. For many people they are an important part of recovering from grief

I'm staying away from the television and the radio for now. No need to seek out irritation. I wish that the media could be what it was those first few days, but it can't. People talked about how everything had changed forever. It hasn't for me. My life is just the same, except for the weight of the memories. I'd rather not have those memories rewritten by television or radio coverage. They aren't particularly valuable memories, I don't have any brilliant insights. I remember what it was like on the day, and I remember that all my friends are alive, and I remember that different people need different things, and I hope that is enough. If it isn't, it won't be the news media that will be able to fill the gap.

#2 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2002, 05:23 PM:

Well, there's not much I can say, except... wow. I can still clearly remember my first thought when I heard of the attacks, and this brought it crashing back. Wow. Thank you for sharing this.

#4 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2002, 07:35 PM:

"They thought this represented a craven attempt to cover over and forget the events of the day, Which Should Always Be Remembered. The minute I saw that, I knew the writer didn't live in the city."

This nicely parallels the same-day (9/4) posts by bloggers James Lileks (a MN based columnist who can be awfully funny but lately has been awfully jingo) and Dan Perkins ("Tom Tommorrow"). Lileks reviewed a memorial DVD and smugged about people who were upset with all the media coverage. Perkins reply:

I'm pretty sure Perkins read Lileks. I hope Lileks read Perkins.

#5 ::: Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2002, 09:33 PM:

Lydy: Once again I shriek, "Seester!" I react very very badly to public displays of either sentimentality or emotion. Somehow I never can bring myself to believe they're really true. Either that cynicism you mention or something even darker in my character. I've been seriously considering driving out to the beach and just sitting there alternately readng and staring at the ocean all day. Listening to any of that stuff on tv or the radio would be like sandpaper on an open wound. I just wish I weren't going to be alone. (I'm in CA and Jordin's in WA--again.)

Teresa: my thoughts will be with you and the others there I know, just as they were on that day. You and Patrick, Vijay, Vickie and Andy, Arthur, Bernadette, and Kevin, Avram, Michael, the whole gang. Hugs to you all.


#6 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 12:22 AM:

Mary Kay: But "public displays of either sentimentality or emotion" are what redeem us.

A willingness to join our fellow humans in Solemn Civic Occasions is critical. Otherwise we're just atomized, alienated brutes.

Sentiment and emotion are real. And earnest. And the grave is not our goal.

--Robert Louis Matthew Arnold John Cardinal Ruskinson (Ret.)

#7 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 12:31 AM:

Back at the end of last year, WNYC (radio) broadcast a documentary of their coverage through the day of Sept. 11. I hadn't heard any of it, because the attacks knocked out WNYC's broadcast signal--like all of the city's TV stations except WCBS, they broadcast through the antenna on Tower 1. But the signal was there, and the reporting was there.

In general, their coverage was superb. But one moment really stood out. Immediately after the first collapse, one of the reporters is shouting at a man. It's clear from their voices, from the way the volume rises and falls, and from background clatter, that they are both running. The reporter asks a standard intelligent news reporter queston--"Can you tell me what just happened?"

And the man's answer captures the day: "No. I can't."

When I write about the day itself, I write about taking my rats to the vet, and I write about watching X-Men on HBO between news reports. One measures a circle beginning anywhere, so let us begin by studying the frogs.

Hugs back to you, Mary Kay. They are much appreciated.

#8 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 01:27 AM:

Hugs to you all too. There was nothing so much we wanted that day as to know that our friends and other loved ones were safe; and after that, to not be alone.

And here's a toast to you, William Perry Shunn, who brought so many of us so much heart's ease on that day that its total is incalculable. I may have been the one who said "Collect names and swap lists," but your check-in page was an order of magnitude better than that.

#9 ::: Maureen Speller ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 02:03 AM:

I never expected to be overwhelmed by events all over again, but the last few days have been ... well, they've just been. I keep having terrible flashbacks of what I did that day. I think I'm only now realising just how much it affected me last year, being so many thousands of miles away from my friends, frantic about everyone I know, desperate for real, solid news, and just appalled beyond any words I know how to use. I still feel appalled beyond words, I'm still struggling to find words, and more than a little embarrassed to find myself having to cope with such strong emotions about something which, on one level, wasn't my drama but which, on another, wis almost too much to bear.

This whole thing is bigger and more abstract than I'm used to dealing with.

I have ordinary things I need to do today, but I'll be thinking about my New York friends, and my American friends today, and wishing I was within reach.


#10 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 02:04 AM:

Great post Teresa.

In Robert A. Heinlein's collected letters, "Grumbles From the Grave," we see RAH's side of an exchange with John Campbell just after Pearl Harbor. Campbell was making some political point about how the U.S. should respond, and RAH said to Campbell; you just don't get it, do you? These were my friends who died at Pearl Harbor, the people I went to the Naval Academy with. For Heinlein, it wasn't a tasty morsel of news to be discussed, it was PERSONAL.

Also, Heinlein felt a sinking sense of shame and cowardice. Even though he'd been honorably discharged from his Naval service, he felt he should have been there.

And that's a little bit how I feel about 9/11. I've stopped reading Instapundit and Matt Welch and a lot of those guys. They're all caught up in whether the Right or the Left has the PROPER attitude of dissent in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. Even Lileks ... I think he's a brilliant feature columnist, and I am eternally grateful to him for awakening in me a love of the commercial design of the middle-20th Century, and I've exchanged just enough e-mail with him to feel like I like him personally ... I regularly buy his "Gallery of Regrettable Foods" as gifts ... but I read his 9/4/01 column and say to myself: he just doesn't get it. We New Yorkers and expatriate New Yorkers don't avoid talking about 9/11 because we're callous and above it all - we avoid it because it's fucking overwhelming to think about.

#11 ::: Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 02:45 AM:

Mitch said, "'s fucking overwhelming to think about."

Yeah, I can't understand why people want to go on tv/radio/whatever and dump their reactions to that fucking overwheming event on everyone else. Why does someone who lost a loved one want to give the reporters another shot as asking, "Can you tell us how you feel?" That kind of grief and emotion are private things; to be shared only with family and closest friends. When people choose to get up and do that on tv with millions of strangers wagching, how can I not be suspicious of their motives? And I don't find American media awfully good at covering that sort of stuff without coming over as sanctimonious vultures.

Patrick: I'm willing to be solemn and observe Civic Occasions. I'm not willing to display my guts on nationwide tv nor to watch others do so. I don't think I'm a brute by any means but I often feel atomized and alienated. I feel that way now when any hint of 9/11 observance I find as I channel surf the news makes me press the channel button harder and faster. Funny you should use that quote. I've just finished rereading REAPER MAN and have been thinking about death and what it means. (And people think Pratchett's a humourist!)

And dammit all those emotions from a year ago are climbing back out of the cellar and choking my throat and prodding at my heart and the cats just aren't very good conversationalists.


#12 ::: Elise Matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 02:50 AM:

I just wanted to say three things:

1. I love you guys.

2. Teresa, may I please have permission to make half-a-dozen copies of this blog bit to give to some people at a place where I will be later today? I'm going down to hang out with the imam, the rabbi, and the minister and a bunch of folks from all over at First Universalist Church where I go, and I would really like to share the stuff you wrote with them.

3. I love you guys. Be well, OK? And know I'm thinking about you. (That goes for everybody on here, too. Wherever you are.)



#13 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 03:17 AM:

MKK writes: >>Yeah, I can't understand why people want to go on tv/radio/whatever and dump their reactions to that fucking overwheming event on everyone else. Why does someone who lost a loved one want to give the reporters another shot as asking, "Can you tell us how you feel?"

Because that's how they cope with their grief.

Truth is, I *do* sometimes think about how I felt about 9/11 - how I felt that day, the day it happened, not how I felt a few days later or how I feel now a year later - and I talk about it occasionally. Like I did tonight. But I can't do it regularly or casually. I can't just turn on the TV, watch the towers fall down, and then say, nonchalantly, "Oh, honey, did the guy call about the car this afternoon?" or some other unrelated thing. The emotions overwhelm me when I feel them. I haven't watched any of the 9/11 video for a year. I've set up the HBO special to tape and I'll watch it ... sometime.

But tomorrow I have a full day of work ahead of me - so I updated my blog tonight with links to Patrick's and Teresa's posts and Dave Barry's column and a lovely photo of the WTC taken in 1972 or so. And now I'll put my feelings aside and tomorrow it'll be a normal day for me, because that's the way it has to be.

On a frivolous note: Can we come up with a better national slogan than, "Let's roll"? Even "Let's do it" would be better. Nathan Hale's biographers understood that sometimes last words have to be ghost-written.

#14 ::: crazysoph ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 07:24 AM:

Thanks to Bill Humphries, I found your testimonial. Directly, I can only answer, "Amen." Indirectly, well, I've linked your piece into my blog. And nattered, diarrhiacally but inadequately, I feel. One just keeps trying, though. Thanks again to you.

#15 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 08:28 AM:

Mary Kay:

"That kind of grief and emotion are private things; to be shared only with family and closest friends. When people choose to get up and do that on tv with millions of strangers watching, how can I not be suspicious of their motives?"

You know I'm fond of you, but I completely disagree on this.

I'm not generally inclined to public displays myself, but I recognize that I'm over toward one end of a big bell curve in this regard. I certainly can't agree that a willingness to display strong emotion in public is reliably a sign of phoniness. That's just plainly not the case.

As Mitch Wagner points out: this is often exactly how people cope with grief.

Which is what I've been trying to say in several imperfect posts, here, on Electrolite, and elsewhere. There are worse things in the world than Americans, including media-industry Americans, getting all fussed and demonstrative about the anniversary of upsetting events. Getting fussed like this is actually rather human. I have a lot more sympathy with the media having a week-long seizure about the 9/11 anniversary than I have with a lot of things the national media does. This particular thrash seems, to me at least, like entirely understandable, even authentic, human behavior -- a reminder that not everything we see on our screens is a result of heartless calculations. Yet.

#16 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 08:41 AM:

Elise, of course you can. The usual: name on it somewhere, c-in-a-circle at the bottom, and give them my best wishes.

Mary Kay, some people cope by talking, some by not talking. As Lydy said (and wasn't that a good set of comments?), different people need different things.

Big hug for Christopher Hatton, sometimes known here as Xopher, who a year ago today was late for work, and I am so glad that he was.

Another one for Michael Weholt, whose account of that can still be read, but only if you speak Italian.

And one for Jim Macdonald, because I spent the first half of 9/11 wondering whether I'd gotten him killed. He was in the area, taking care of his mother, and I called and told him the news without remembering that he's an EMT. He rang off almost immediately so he could find out if he was needed. Shortly after that I lost my email, cellphone, and all but local phone service. I spent the next seven hours trying to figure out whether he could have gotten into the city in time to get caught in the collapse.

And so many others.

I love you guys.

Excuse me, I have to go climb out onto my roof now.

#17 ::: Christopher Hatton ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 09:52 AM:

Thanks Teresa. The hug is appreciated and needed.

The commentary is even more so.

I'm gonna give it to my shrink. It could save WEEKS of talking. Besides, I'm trying to entice her to get online, and writing like this is the best lure I can think of for someone who likes to read intelligent and heartfelt commentary. (C in a circle, and all that, of course.)

I thought I was going to let all the "times" just go by, but of course I just HAPPENED to look at my clock at 8:46 and again at...9:11. The latter has been happening to me all year, though.

#18 ::: Joel Davis ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 10:17 AM:

I'm a member of the news media, myself. I work for a small newspaper in Tennessee.

Today, I'm at home with my wife and new son. I stopped watching the memorial broadcast on CNN a few minutes ago when the pressure behind my eyes became too much to bear.

I remember the feeling from last year as I hurriedly dressed for work, muttering rage-filled inanities at the mirror, after seeing reports of the first tower's fall.

For me, 9/11 was a dark day spent at local schools asking students what they thought about the tragedy and a dark night watching CNN to try to understand the horror that had befallen so many people I'd never met and now never would.

Afterwards, came the attempts to assess just what the tragedy meant to us in Maryville. Even our small community has links to NYC. I spent days trying to reach the son of a local school superintendent, who was working at St. Vincent's at the time. I talked with a high school principal whose daughter watched the towers fall from the roof of her apartment.

9/11 marked something else personally, too. That's when the well went dry. Once upon a time, I might have been able to wring some columns out of the tragedy. I might have penned some stirring and ultimately hypocritical missive about my feelings on the horrors of the attack.

But I didn't. I couldn't. It was too big and too horrible and the words wouldn't come. They still don't, really.

Not every reporter is a faceless cog in a soulless media collective. Sometimes we're parasites, but we aspire higher than that. I spent 9/11 damning my choice of career and wishing to be a paramedic or a rescue worker or something, anything, rather than a scavenger on the outskirts of tragedy.

In the end, all I could do was tell a few stories. It's not enough, but it's all I could do. That may count for something, but it doesn't feel like it.

May you find peace.

Joel Davis

#19 ::: Emmet O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 11:05 AM:

At 8.46 this morning Jo and I were in St. Joseph's Oratorio for a performance of Mozart's Requiem, which was packed to the rafters - I'd guess more than fifteen hundred people, which was pushing the physical limits of what that space could hold. This was apparently part of an organised commemoration in which there is a performance or performances of the Requiem at 8.46 am in every time zone. I am not normally one for organised commemorative events, but this felt _right_. As an expression of grief, Mozart's Requiem is perhaps as good as Western civilisation can do.

The thought that keeps coming back to me is "Twenty years of the Troubles in one morning." I spent the first twenty years of my life varying degrees of just down the road from Belfast, and one of these years I really hope I can articulate how 9/11 felt to someone coming from a background that was part of the West, but where terrorist attacks were a continuous presence. There's certainly a large amount of guilt in there, along the lines of "I always wished more Americans understood what it was like to live with terrorism but I didn't mean _that_."

The other thought that came to me in the Oratorio this morning, looking at the several different school trips that had come for the Requiem, was that there's a notable generation gap at about three to five years younger than me, depending on where one goes - I was born in 1973 - at which people's worldview suddenly changes because they never had the absolute certainty that there was no future, that the Cold War was going to go nuclear and kill us all, nor the rush of hope that I felt when that set of axioms changed. I greatly hope that there will not be a similar gap with people in the West for whom the emotional realities of life before 9/11 are not firsthand, because the range of possible axioms they might grow up holding includes some scary ones.

#20 ::: Mary Kay Kare ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 11:26 AM:

Patrick: I spent some time composing eloquent and reasoned arguments to your most recent response. All of which came down to, "Yes, I know everyone is different but it'd be better if they were more like me." When I realized I was doing that again I quit crying and started laughing. Maybe one of these days I'll learn to be a grownup.

Okay, different people cope with grief differently. I promise to stop being suspicious of carefully organized, orchestrated, choreographed and televised displays of grief just as soon as they quit thinking I'm cold, distant, and unfeeling. Yes, I should be better and stronger and extend the courtesy first, and maybe tomorrow I will. But I haven't got the wherewithal for it today.


#21 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 11:45 AM:

I saw maybe an hour of NBC's programming about the terrorist attack, including much of the broadcast time they used to describe the events, actions, and emotions of the immediate victims in the buildings and their families. (Not on purpose, I was working on a friend's computer, sat down to describe the work, and felt unable to walk out on it.)

Some parts were deliberately manipulative in ways that made me uncomfortable. Some of the interviews seemed ghoulish, and it was a clearly a product of the modern NBC approach to news as a "story." I think, it will be a focal point and initiator for more emotional processing of these events for a lot of Americans.

It also presented a lot of facts, many of them potentially uncomfortable if one thought about them, in a timeline format that will probably lead many Americans to think more about how our nation's people's flaws and virtues both led to deaths that might have been avoided.

I hope none of my friends in New York felt compelled to watch it, but for people who did not live through the actual events, it will be a start to a lot of emotional and intellectual work. It had the potential for unintended consequences for years to come, as well as being blatant commercial exploitation of a tragedy.

I have been and will be thinking of my friends there in New York with warm thoughts, wishing you all well, hoping that you are kept safe and able to find good ways to move forward in your lives.

Being kind is the right thing to do: what happened was a great evil, one we cannot heal, but at least we can oppose it with the day-to-day good things we do. Best wishes to you, my friends and loved ones.

#22 ::: Janet Lafler ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 12:37 PM:

For the last three weeks I've been in the grip of a personal anxiety that has nothing to do with September 11th. Some time during the next week, I will receive test results that will turn my anxiety into either grief or profound relief. As a result, I am deliberately paying little attention to the anniversary of September 11th; I'm so much on edge, and I don't need to be reminded of that awful day a year ago.

I feel lucky that I live in California, where the reminders of that day are less omnipresent than they are in many places. This may seem callous and selfish to people who were more personally affected by September 11th than I was. If so, I'm sorry. The way we feel about public events is bound up with the events of our own lives, and I'm just trying to get through the next week without going mad. That's why I resent the media saturation. I considered going to hear the Mozart Requiem performed by a local choir this morning (part of the "rolling requiem" that Emmet mentions). I thought it might be a memorial that would feel appropriate to me. But I decided that for me a requiem is not the right symbolism because my own situation is balanced on a knife's edge between joy and disaster. I'm not yet ready to sing a requiem.

This morning, as I did last year on September 11th, I caught a casual carpool into San Francisco. Last year, I first heard about the disaster on the radio in a stranger's car. This year, I sat wishing belatedly that I had taken the bus instead, because the driver had the radio on and the names of the people who died a year ago were being read. I sat with these people I didn't know and would probably never see again, in silence without a feeling of camaradarie, and did my best not to break down.

#23 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 12:58 PM:

MMK: And people think Pratchett's a humourist!

He is, but he works in all four humours. (I'm currently reading Carpe Jugulum.)

#24 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 04:48 PM:

I thought being eight thousand miles (and nearly that many time zones) away would let me just slide through this day without even noticing. And it almost worked.

But your blog made me cry.

All I can say is, "Thank you."

Fran Wolber

#25 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 05:10 PM:

Back when I was a daily newspaper reporter, I saw at first hand that some people found talking about their grief to an interested stranger to be helpful. We were a small community newspaper - every fatal car accident and murder got a full-length article - and it was often my job to go interview the victim's family and friends. About half of them didn't want to talk, and I didn't push them, just apologized for intruding on their time, expressed condolences and moved on. But the other half were cooperative, and even eager. They found talking to me to be catharticl, and they wanted the whole community to know how wonderful the person they loved was. They loaned me their only copies of precious family photos of the deceased and thank me for the articles as they appeared.

But I tell you, it gets to be hard. The first few times it's sort of exciting - you're a REAL REPORTER AT LAST! COVERING CRIME NEWS! But after a while you begin to notice that there's real people involved. Most crime reporters bail out and find some other form of journalism - or another line of work entirely - as they begin to approach age 30.

I think I said this before on the Internet, but I'll repeat myself - when I left daily newspapers to join the computer trade press in 1989, I had some misgivings. But one thing I was glad for - I was never again going to have to inform a wife that her husband, who just went out for a few drinks with the boys a few hours ago, was dead.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 06:18 PM:

Joel, both my parents started out as journalists, and before I got into trade publishing I set type for a lot of weird little newspapers. I never meant to damn the whole species; just the piling-on behavior of the national news media. And if you'd been in Manhattan a year ago, you'd have found there was more work for good reporters than there was for paramedics and rescue workers.

#27 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2002, 11:19 PM:


I didn't even bother to ask your permission—I just pasted a couple of paragraphs from your beautiful piece into my weblog—for which I'm now apologizing if I should have asked first. I usually blog first thing in the morning before the daily meetings, so there's not a lot of time...

I've enjoyed Mary Kaye and PNH's discussion. Normally (being an ex-TV producer) I too am very cynical about public displays, but I think Patrick was entirely right about this event.

I'm in Boston. The closest worry I had to the event was wondering where my brother, USA Today reporter, was, when it happened. Turned out he was headed toward the towers for coverage when they came down. He was okay.

I watched the footage just like everyone else and felt angry and shocked—but nothing I'm sure to what you all in NY went through.

That evening I'm watching Fox News and I see the Queen Mother order the guards or whatever at the palace to play the Star Spangled Banner. I'm looking at all those wonderful, hobbit-like, round, wrinkled English faces pressed up against the gates; they're all crying. My wife in the next room asks me what's going on; I get about two words out before I started blubbering like a baby; my 1-year-old daughter sees me crying, and she starts going off too. And all because I saw those wonderful Brits, many of whom remember the Blitz, no doubt, anguishing over the event.

I remember thinking afterwards, that I needed that. To get it out. Some things just happen that do....

#28 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2002, 12:23 AM:

T & P --

I'm inordinately fond of you two and am very glad that you are still around.

Just wanted to say that, especially today.

I would have called, but was sure you would be busy. I knew that P. was having lunch with Ellie, as she was on the agenda for a phone call in the later afternoon, for needed distraction.

Have missed seeing ya'll since Elric and I haven't been down since last Nov when we brought Ellie and the cats home.

T's post was ... just right. Just what I needed to read this evening. I'm moved to comment and unlurk. Hugs.

#29 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2002, 06:25 AM:

Of course it's not the same -- the scales are completely different, and of course nothing ever is the same -- but today I keep remembering the first April 19th after the Oklahoma City bombing.

I hope everyone here made it through the day intact, without too many of those awful oh-my-god moments.

#30 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2002, 09:28 AM:

The one year anniversary has given me a very _Brave New World_ kind of feeling. During the NYRSF workweekend,over Kevin Maroney's shoulders I noticed he was reading a Wall Street Journal editorial purporting to link Iraq (and Al Quaeda) to the Oklahoma City Bomb. (The "evidence" boiled down to, there's this Iraqi guy, y'know, and he's got this tatoo, and maybe that means he might be John Doe #2. So let the invasion begin.) Also, in, I think, a WSJ editorial in the same week there was an editorial purporting to explain "what we had learned from 9/11." It's opening point is that we had learned that who was in power in distant, and even obscure, countries is of vital interest to our national security, the implication seeming to be that "we" should have a say: yet another paranoid argument for invading Iraq. (I don't have preceise references for this stuff, because I was so appalled that the papers in question went immediately out with the recycling on 9/10. I didn't want them in my house. The Bush administration and the republican party seem to view the anniversary as a unique launch window for a marketing campaign for a new military campaign. To say that this shows poor taste does not even begin to scratch the surface.

So, my 9/11/02:
I knew in advance exactly where I would be at 8:46 AM on the 1 year anniversary of the time the 1st plane hit: waiting for the school bus with Peter, the little girl next door and her mother, and a Pakistani mother and daughter who moved in across the street about a month ago. What did we talk about? The tree work going on in the yard behind our nextdoor neighbors' and how late the afterschool bus had been since school started.

At 9:30, when I was driving David to the train, I said, "I'm glad I wrote it all down last year, so I don't have to try to remember it now." That may have been the only conversation about the anniversary I had all day, except occasional discussions with David about the details of my intended media blackout. I thought about emailing someone "Here's your opportunity to get posttraumatic-stress-disorder from your TV all over again," but decided that this was an impulse to be suppressed.

At the time the second tower had collapsed, I found myself driving past the very same spot I'd been at a year ago, thoush this time the no old man who cuts the grass with scissors was not in evidence.

I occasionally listended to WFUV over the course of the day, which had been a great comfort a year earlier. They were trying to serve a similar function, playing what people wanted to hear on the 9/11 anniversary. But as a planned event, it just didn't work for me, so I turned it off and played CDs instead.

In the afternoon, I got a call from a mother of a little girl in Peter's class, who had volunteered to make sure all the parents had turned in their emergrancy evacuation forms (a post-9/11 innovation of the school district). Her family moved in in June. They bought their house from Mrs. Schwarzstein, a WTC widow. The house in question is, as the crow flies, 3 houses away from ours. I didn't know until May that we'd had a WTC death in the neighborhood. Such are the lines of communication in suburbia.

There was to be a small memorial service in Chappaqua that I might have gone to, but Peter had a doctor's appointment opposite. Driving home from the appointment, I saw the volunteer firemen, in full formal dress, returning in their fire engines from the service.

I worked on our Year's Best volumes all day, not unaware of the anniversary, but not seeking "catharsis" either. The later it got, the more relieved I got that Nothing Bad Had Happened.

Like Teresa, I feel in no danger of forgetting.

#31 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2002, 01:33 AM:

I spent a bit of the morning watching the memorial service at Ground Zero, but I never got past the double-barrelled alienation of watching Woody Bush leading a Minute of Silent Smirking and then the utterly surreal army of bagpipers marching down the ramp into the hole that used to be a building.

But long before the morning of the 11th, I'd realized that what the organizers of such events wanted, and what the news media seemed to be striving for, was a memorial so thorough that we'd finally be able to stop hurting. And such a thing can't exist.

#32 ::: Robert Glaub ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2002, 12:28 PM:

This is personal with me. I lost people at the Pentagon who I knew (not very well, but our lives touched), and given the nature of my work, I could very easily have been in the Navy spaces when everything came down. Even though it's been over a year since the attacks, I still feel a deep abiding anger, and I want to see a just punishment given out to the perpetrators. I'm not willing to wait for the natural course of events for them to meet Allah for his eternal judgment: I would like to hurry things along a little with that aspect.

The year since 9/11 has been one of trememdous pressure for us all in my business. Now us workers bees are getting blames for the institutional shortcomings of our superiors in not sharing and passing along information. What gets failed to mention is that 'The Wall', as it has been referred to by FBI types, was put there for very good reasons in the beginning, but as the years went on it became more and more rigid and unyielding. The reason FBI and CIA agents didn't share with each other is simple: they kept being told by their superiors that they would go to federal prison if they did. And so a well-meant law meant to protect American citizens from government harassment helped protect murderous thugs. In the watches of the night I sometimes wonder what those higher-ups may be thinking to themselves now...

I don't do fieldwork any more. Getting too old, and my health is not exactly the best, and so I hung the flak jacket and kevlar helmet a few years ago. That sort of stuff is for the young and filled with hormones and piss-and-vinegar, and I wish them well...

As for me, I'll be doing what I can from behind a desk, getting swivel-chair spread...

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