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September 30, 2002
Son o’ God
Posted by Patrick at 06:30 AM *

Latest in Making Light’s ongoing series of religious inscrutabilia: Custom Jesus KING OF KINGS GI Joe action figure. Mary Kay Kare found it on eBay. It’s too late to bid on it, but there’s still time to contemplate and marvel:

You are bidding on the greatest figure ever made! Now your 12 inch figures can have salvation and redemption from the one and only SON OF GOD. This figure was hand sculpted, cast in resin, hand painted, clearcoated and epoxied onto a 21st Century figure. The figure was done in the likeness of the late actor Jeffrey Hunter, known for His incredible portrayal of Christ in the movie “King of Kings”. The figure has interchangeable hands (3 included)and comes with a Holy Grail cup. Stand included. MONEY ORDERS in United States currency only. No personal checks.
It went for $325.

I announced here back on 11 July 2001 that I’d settled—to my satisfaction, at least—the question of whether The Internet Changes Everything: It doesn’t. What prompted this decision was discovering that it’s a rare week in which someone on eBay isn’t auctioning off a bit of the True Cross.

At the time I posted that, there were three bits of the True Cross up for sale (excuse me: The reliquaries were for sale; the relics just happened to come with), plus bits of SS. Agnes, Anthony of Padua, Apollonia, Blaise, Catherine of Alexandria, Claire, Constantia, Didier, Dominic, Donatus, Felix, Francis of Assisi, “Francisci Solani” (?), Leonidas, and Romain, plus a bit of the Blessed Virgin’s veil and a relic of the Holy Lance.

That wasn’t an unusual week. Lots of relics changing hands on eBay. But this is the first time I’ve heard of someone selling off the Holy Grail—even the GI Joe version.

September 27, 2002
Immanent beauty
Posted by Teresa at 03:29 PM *

From the PhysicsWeb site, an article by Robert P. Crease. A while back he asked readers to send in their nominees for the most beautiful experiment in physics. Now he reports on the results: what they picked, and why. And here’s the New York Times picking up on the story.

I love this stuff. I don’t know why people are so hesitant about talking about their work—what’s cool, what gets old real fast, the constraints and requirements that drive everything else, the moments you always remember.

I once came within a hairsbreadth of disgracing myself during a Broadway performance of Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love. A character had just made an impassioned speech about text editing, and described that moment when you see in a garbled text the error that muddled it, and the text as it’s supposed to be; when a small change here and another one there will instantly untangle the snarl and let it run smooth. I’m not sure how I was supposed to react to it, but I just barely caught myself in time to keep from punching my fist in the air and shouting “Yes!”

As it happened, I was there in the company of a bunch of publishing people; but I doubt the rest of the audience would have been as understanding.

Usually, when people talk about the finicky bits of text editing, I apologetically say okay, it’s boring, but someone has to care about all that stuff, and aren’t you glad it isn’t you? But sometimes what I want to say is “No, you don’t understand—sometimes it’s beautiful.”

Thanks, physicists, for letting me see yours.

Rowling vs. Stouffer
Posted by Teresa at 12:04 PM *

You’ll have heard the original news story: How, back in March 2000, American author Nancy Stouffer brought suit against J. K. Rowling and her publishers, claiming that Rowling’s hugely successful Harry Potter plagiarized her own children’s book, The Legend of Rah [and the Muggles], and her series of stories about “Larry Potter”, all of which were published in the mid-1980s.

I found her case unconvincing from the start. “Muggles” is not a new word, “Potter” is not an uncommon surname, and the other alleged similarities were nothing you couldn’t find in dozens of other works. Stouffer is just not all that credible. On her own website, she claimed that each of her titles—which were issued by a vanity publisher—had a first printing of 100,000 copies, and that all of them had sold out their first printings within a week.

Just for the record, that’s impossible. First, if they’d sold like that, you would have heard about them, they’d have been on bestseller lists, and they’d still be in print. Second, in order to get that kind of initial laydown in the stores, her publisher would have to have had a full-scale professional marketing & distribution setup already in operation. If you’re a real publisher, a setup like that is expensive but indispensable. If you’re a vanity publisher, it’s ruinously expensive and completely pointless. Third, both Borders and Barnes & Noble have confirmed that they turned down Stouffer’s books as being of inferior quality. If you’re interested, here’s a short review of The Legend of Rah, and an in-depth review.

Stauffer’s case didn’t prosper. Neither did she. Nobody wanted her books, and her first lawyer dropped her for undisclosed reasons that at this point scarcely need explaining. There’s been a series [1, 2, 3] of flavorful technical rants about the legal goings-on in the Stouffer case in Surreality Check, John Savage’s online journal about publishing law.

And what about J. K. Rowling? She’s been taking it like an author. Which is to say that this woman—current titleholder for “the English-speaking world’s most successful writer,” zillions of awards, whose works are passionately adored by an entire generation of children and many older readers as well, who’s had a successful major motion picture based on her work with the possibility of more, and whose new releases have the unprecedented power to soak up every last available scrap of excess capacity in the printing and binding industry when Scholastic seriously underestimates their initial demand—has been fretting so much over this one stupid case that it’s kept her from finishing her latest book.

They’re like that. I swear.

The case has now been settled. The court ruled in J. K. Rowling’s favor, which is not surprising in the least. They stuck Nancy Stouffer with the legal costs, which if less of a foregone conclusion is still not surprising. The juicy part is that they nailed Stouffer with an additional $50,000 fine for bad behavior. This is where it gets interesting.

My own impulse would have been to argue the content of the books; to say that coincidental similarities (Muggles, Potter) happen far more often than casual readers imagine, and that themes and motifs recur in literature almost as predictably as repeats in the background of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. And in fact the judge has ruled that the similarities between the works are minimal. But most of the judgement is taken up with a discussion of the evidence Stouffer submitted in support of her case:

The motion for sanctions is based upon Stouffer’s alleged perpetration of a fraud upon the Court, namely her production of at least seven pieces of falsified evidence: (i) the altered Playthings advertisement that was attached to her counterclaims (SAAC, Exh. 12); (ii) the altered copies of The Legend of Rah and the Muggles (Choe Decl. Exh. 17-20); (iii) the altered copy of the “RAH” screenplay (SAAC, Exh. 18); (iv) drawings of “Muggles” merchandise that were altered to include the word “Muggles TM” (Choe Decl, Exh. 63); (v) altered copies of Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly (Choe Decl., Exh. 24-27); (vi) the forged invoices that purport to record sales by BCI to Great Northern Distributors (SAAC, Exh. 16); and (vii) an altered draft agreement between BCI and Warner Publisher Services. (SAAC, Exh. 17; Choe Decl., Exh 37).
The judgement—which is shorter and more readable than you may fear; do have a look at it—fascinates me because testimony pops up from so many areas of the industry the public doesn’t normally hear from—copyright registration, wholesale book sales, illustration, print technology, typography and imaging, and I’m not sure what all else. Here’s a sample:
Stouffer has produced booklets entitled The Legend of Rah and the Muggles that were allegedly created by Ande in the 1980’s. … However, plaintiffs have submitted expert testimony indicating that the words “The Legend of” and the words “and the Muggles,” which appear on the title pages of these booklets, could not have been printed prior to 1991. … According to plaintiffs’ expert witness—whose testimony Stouffer does not rebut—the printing technology employed in the application of those words to the title pages was invented in 1985; however, because the specific printer used to print those words was between six and ten years old at the time the words were printed, “The Legend of” and “and the Muggles” could not have been placed on the title pages before 1991 (i.e. four years after Ande’s bankruptcy). Stouffer concedes that these additional words were added to the title pages of the booklets after the booklets were originally printed, although she does not know exactly when the words were added or by what printing method.
When the case first started, I thought it was possible that Nancy Stouffer was one of those poor deluded souls who have so few ideas themselves, and are so unfamiliar with the process of having them, that they think any similarity between their own (invariably unpublished) work and other authors’ published work must be deliberate plagiarism. But not now. The extent of her forgeries rules that out. She’s a fraud—and a damned stupid one, too.


John Savage of Surreality Check writes to say that I understated just how ignominious the judgement was for Nancy Stauffer. He has …

… Just one minor quibble, and (of course!) it’s a technical one: the Stouffer matter has not been settled at all. There was no settlement, but a summary judgment against Stouffer. (Think of it as a trial before the judge where all the evidence is on paper, instead of live witnesses, and that the judge has to find that “no rational jury” could find otherwise—or it DOES go to a jury trial with live witnesses.)

September 26, 2002
An excellent optical illusion.
Posted by Teresa at 08:05 PM *

Update: More illusions. (Thank you, Erik Olson.)

September 23, 2002
Anything but that
Posted by Teresa at 10:02 AM *

James M. Capozzola of Rittenhouse Review has pointed out an article in the Helsingin Sanomat’s international edition that at first I thought had to be a bad joke.

You know East Timor, poor unlucky East Timor, on the receiving end of everything? Still trying to recover from its most recent disaster, the spiteful and destructive behavior of the departing Indonesians? Yes. Well. East Timor is looking for a national language.

Trouble is, most of the SE Asian languages are historically the languages of East Timor’s oppressors. Lingua Francas like Portuguese, Bahasa Indonesian, French, and English are associated with colonialism. The original East Timorese language, Tetum, has a primitive grammar, and anyway it comes in eight or nine different tribal dialects so it doesn’t qualify as a unifying force.

But things are moving forward. It looks like they may have settled on a national language, which is now being taught in school to all the East Timorese children:


Of all the languages they could have picked, Finnish.

It’s spoken by no one else on earth except the Finns. It does have a slight but perceptible resemblance to Hungarian, but all that goes to show is that at some point in the past, both those peoples experienced significant amounts of alien contact. Linguists love it for its logical regularity and insane complexity. I suspect it’s their version of staring into the void.

I’m not a linguist, but I’ll admit that I (and James Capozzola, too) have also spent too many hours staring into that particular void. Finnish grammar is fairly amazing. As my Manual of Foreign Languages says, this is an agglutinative language in which:

The noun is declined according to cases, of which there are 15; according to number, of which there are 2; according to type of declension, of which there are 3; and according to its pronomial modifier (my, your, etc.). This involves the addition of various definite suffixes, subject, however, to the laws of vowel changes and contractions, of which there are 49.
These fifteen basic cases are the nominative (the tree), partitive (a tree, some tree), genitive (of the tree), inessive (in the tree), elative (from out of the tree), ablative (away from the tree), illative (into the tree), adessive (done on or with the tree), allative (to the tree), abessive (without the tree), prolative (along the tree), translative (became a tree), essive (as a tree), comitative (together with the tree), and instructive (by means of the tree).

Some Finnish scholars deny the existence of the prolative, saying it’s only an adverbial suffix. Some regard the instructive case as having vanished, lingering on only in proverbs and adverbs. Some allege the existence of an accusative case whose form coincides with the form of the nominative or genitive, and which can therefore only be detected by the presence of specifically accusative forms of personal pronouns. The compositive, multiplicative, and excessive cases are currently regarded as theoretical.

Pronouns are declined like nouns, and come in personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite, and reflexive varieties.

Then there are the twelve adverbial cases, which Mr. Capozzola helpfuly lists: superessive, delative, sublative, lative, temporal, causative, multiplicative, distributive, temporal distributive, prolative, situative, and oppositive.

Verbs are a bit simpler, having three persons, two voices (active and passive), two uses (transitive and intransitive), and four tenses (present, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect). However, they also have seven moods: indicative, imperative, conditional, verbal noun, verbal adjective, and the optative and concessive; the optative being the imperative for the first and third persons, and the concessive expressing probability or likelihood. These can make for interesting complications.

And, since Finnish is agglutinative, all these interacting bits of language join up together to form a small number of large words. “After having registered at the hotel, we went to our room, which was on the third floor” turns into five glutinous words: “registered-after-having-our hotel-into, went-we, third-in, floor-in, situated-being-in room-into-our”, Kirjoittauduttuamme hotelliin menimme kolmannessa kerroksessa sijaitsevaan huoneeseemme. “The negotiating committee for the discontinuation of armed hostilities” comes out as aseleponeuvottelutoimikunta.

It’s actually necessary for the words to be this long, because otherwise they’d have more inflections than they have letters.

Anyway, anyway. I was oddly touched to discover that James Capozzola’s reaction to this news story was exactly the same as mine: Haven’t the East Timorese already suffered enough?

September 21, 2002
Lemon-pepper hot sauce
Posted by Teresa at 09:30 AM *

My favorite commercial hot sauce is Another Bloody Day in Paradise Three Pepper Lemon Hot Sauce, which was originally designed for grilling fish and making Bloody Marys, but IMO is good on everything but dessert. Lately, though, I’ve been wanting a tart, lighter-bodied version of it, so I’ve done some experimenting on my own.

Lemon-pepper hot sauce

12 oz. extra-strength cider vinegar
8-10 good big plump jalapenos
2 large or 3 small lemons
several large cloves of garlic
2 T. dried basil
2 t. dried thyme
2 t. freshly ground black pepper
1 t. ground coriander
1/4 t. ground nutmeg or mace
1/4 t. celery salt
a dash of ground comino
a blender or food processor
See the additional notes below.

Don rubber gloves. Wash and stem the peppers, then put them in the bowl of your food processor to keep them out of trouble. Before going any further, wash your knife, cutting board, and rubber-gloved hands with soap, rinsing thoroughly. After this point, gloves are optional.

Peel or grate the zest off the lemons. Remove the remaining white part of the peel and discard it. Cut the lemons in half and flick out the seeds. (You’re allowed to miss a few.) Put the lemons, zest, and all the other ingredients except the salt and vinegar into the bowl of your food processor.

Process at moderate speed until it reduces to a wet pulp. If it’s too dry, add a quarter-cup of vinegar. Scrape the bowl down, throw in a[nother] quarter-cup of vinegar, and zap it at high speed until it’s either liquefied or you can smell the motor starting to overheat. Add the remaining vinegar at the end.

Pour it out into a wire strainer. When the pulp is drained, remove it to a storage container, salt it strongly, cover it, and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. Refrigerate the liquid, too. In the morning, run the pulp through the food processor again, then put it back in the strainer and pour the liquid through it. Let it drain, pressing it to squeeze out any last drops. You may want to use cheesecloth or pantyhose for this latter part. Discard the used-up pulp.

You now have a bottle of sauce. You may want to strain it again through finer-gauge filters, though that’s not strictly necessary. Keep it refrigerated. Makes ten or twelve ounces, depending on how hard you squeeze.

Some notes on ingredients:

Jalapenos: The red ones have more flavor; the green ones are hotter. I like having some of each. For a milder sauce, break the peppers in half when you’re stemming them and remove the seeds. Doing this under running water will help get the seeds out, but you’ll have to work fast. Capsaicin doesn’t like water, and via some mechanism I don’t understand, gets into the air, where it will make you cough. (Fresh habaneros are even worse that way. I like to keep them submerged in olive oil, like metallic sodium in kerosene.)

Black (capsicum) pepper, a.k.a. capsicum pepper: The fancy peppercorn mixes with pink, green, white, and brown peppercorns mixed in aren’t just an affectation. They all have slightly different flavors. Grinding them together gives you a richer, broader-spectrum flavor that goes very well in this sauce.

Vinegar: This part is seriously optional, okay? So: The water held in the peppers will dilute your vinegar, so I make mine strong to start via freeze concentration, a.k.a. jacking. Take at least a quart of cider vinegar and pour it into smaller freezer containers. Tall skinny shapes work best. Freeze them, then unmold them and set them upright in a wire strainer over a bowl. The vinegar will melt faster than the water, so you’ll see the brown color gradually drain out of the chunk of ice. The sooner you stop draining, the less water melts into your bowl, but the more vinegar you lose in the ice.

Repeat this process several times with the contents of the bowl and its descendants. If you want, you can also repeat it with the ice chunks, adding their first strong runoff to the stuff from the bowl. Over time your batches will diverge, some growing paler and milder, others getting darker and stronger, until you’re left with a thin washy vinegary solution you can use for rinsing your hair, and a smaller amount of dark, almost viscous concentrated vinegar. If I put a drop of it on the tip of my tongue and it hurts, I figure it’s ready to use.

This same trick can be used to raise the alcohol content of hard cider, i.e. make applejack, and to concentrate fruit juices without heating them. (Pressure cookers are all very well, but I want a vacuum cooker too.)

Pantyhose: The strainer of choice for large projects. A new pair is best, but a well-washed old pair works too—you’re not going to use the crotch and foot anyway. Tie a very tight knot just above the foot and trim off everything below it. Cut the other bits off at the top. Take the top edge and roll it down as though you were putting on an old-fashioned gartered stocking. Leave a few inches at the bottom. Set the dangly end in a bowl and start scooping your fruit pulp or salsa makings into the opening. A canning funnel or a friend who can hold the top open for you is good here, or you can use a tuna can with its top and bottom cut off as a support. Gradually unroll more fabric as the stocking fills. A full-length leg will hold a surprising amount. When you’re done, tie another knot and hang the thing up to drain.

Be considerate when disposing of it afterward, especialy if you’re working with flesh-colored materials; it can look unnervingly like a transporter accident.

September 20, 2002
A first-approximation map of fetishes
Posted by Teresa at 06:23 PM *

Katharine Gear has created a map of fetishes. In my opinion it’s missing three fairly significant elements (or themes, or areas, or whatever you want to call them), but it’s nevertheless a remarkable piece of work.

What do I think is missing? First, she locates the entire S/M constellation in the “pleasure through pain” area, leaving out its aspect of cession/assumption/exchange of control. Second, she doesn’t draw any connection between piercing, marking, tattooing, etc., and the other varieties of body modification and transformation. And third, while she’s found places on the map for vampires, furverts, ponygirls, adult babies, etc., there’s no overall siting of roleplaying and costume play as a major sub-theme in its own right.

Still, it’s a great first approximation of a subject I’ve never seen mapped before.

September 16, 2002
Three words, three errors, one title
Posted by Teresa at 01:52 PM *

It’s hard to find a genuine non-ironic specimen of blasphemy these days, but for the next 33 hours there’s one for sale on eBay. It’s a colored print in which innumerable little photo-reduced squares containing images of Jesus have been used to create an image of George W. Bush.

This is iconographically appalling—goodbye “Christians united in Christ”, hello “Christs united in an unrepentant unforgiving uncharitable lying draft-dodging coke-sniffing piss-ant of a frat boy.” (Also, a lesser sin: They cheated when they created the image mosaic.) The finished product might not have looked much different if all those depictions of Christ had been subsumed into an image of Alfred E. Neuman, but I’d have found it less offensive.

The caption, “Our Christian President”, clocks in with an impressive error rate of one error per word. The rest of the sales copy doesn’t maintain that same high level, but it’s still noteworthy. Feel free to tot up your own error counts:

JesusMosaics are a NEW and UNIQUE expression of classic mosaic art. They are the first truly new form of religious art in decades.


They don’t say whether it was Jesus or Dubya that signed the print.

Further words fail me, except to note that Mark Frauenfelder picked it up from Stefan Jones and posted it to BoingBoing, which was where I found it.

September 12, 2002
This one, I kinda like
Posted by Teresa at 08:51 AM *

Studio Yves has come up with A Space Between, a proposed design for the WTC site. The new buildings would bracket and highlight the negative space left by the vanished towers. It looks like they’re proposing to do the column-of-light thing at night, though perhaps not with the sheer raw candlepower of this past spring’s temporary memorial.

The actual buildings in the proposal look slabby and undistinguished, but maybe that’s just architectural greeking.

September 07, 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.)

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.