Posts from August 11, 2002

It has been a year…:

It has been a year…
: … and I will start reflecting on the year it has been. Of course, it has been only 11 months but in the media, we jump ahead, we round up….

It has been a year…
: … and my greatest fear is that I have wasted this time.

The first words I wrote on September 11 were these: “Yes, I am blessed to be alive.” I was, indeed, blessed to have survived the attack and the devastation only hours before.

I hoped then that I would take advantage of the proverbial second chance to bring new resolve, accomplishments, creativity, and courage to my family and my work. Now, as this anniversary rushes us, I take stock. And I fear that I have squandered the chance.

The problem, you see, is that life cannot help but return to normal and normal life is banal and bland and boring; it is filled with petty politics and silly make-work and turf squabbles; it is the nature of things.

That day, on the other hand, was profound: profound in its tragedy, in its challenges, in its heroism, in its evil, and in its virtue.

But most days — most of life — are not profound and so I have suffered a withdrawl from profundity. I wanted life to stay profound — for the better. I wanted profound change. But that has not happened. And I fear it is my fault.

It has been a year…
: … and my greatest blessing is my family. I have written before that starting on that day, my children would not let me leave their sight without saying, “I love you.”

They still do. And so do I.

It has been a year…
: … and I still get flashbacks.

When anyone in the news faces death in darkness, I think of that day. When the miners in Pennsylvania — our angels of badly needed good news — were still trapped and when they were rescued and talked about their fears of death in the darkness, I recalled of my own fears in the darkness of the cloud of destruction that overtook me. I remembered afresh how I feared I was leaving my family. The pain returned.

And when I was cleaning out the garage the other day, I came across the shoes I wore that day. I had tried to clean them but they still were coated in white. And I remembered the dust, the smell of it, the taste, the fear.

It has been a year…
: … and I’m still having trouble reading.

I’ve written before that I was carrying Jonathan Franzen’s novel that day; it was infused with the dust of the Towers’ destruction. I threw it out (something I rarely to do books) and bought another copy and tried to pick up where I left off. But I could not, no matter how often I tried. Suddenly, it seemed so self-indulgent, trivial, irritating.

Since then, I have spent hours upon hours in bookstores, looking desperately for something I will want to read. I continue to fail.

Of course, I know that is ridiculous — stupid — on its face: In any bookstore, I could seek out Dickens or Kafka if its anger, cynicism, absurdity, or profundity that I want.

But I have always liked reading the new, the latest, the fresh.

I could read Ken Layne’s novel, but I don’t want to do that while I am still in a rotten mood; I’m not ready for fun yet.

In the store, every novel I pick up looks even more self-indulgent than Franzen. The shelves are filled with women and men, old and young, off on journeys of self-discovery after a divorce or disillusionment or whatever. The nonfiction shelves are filled with the stories of dot-com failures, as if reading about failure will illuminate us.

I wonder whether reading has changed Post Terror and whether writing has not caught up with it.

Martin Amis sees it from the opposite perspective [via Woods Lot]; he sees it from the writer’s:

After a couple of hours at their desks, on September 12, 2001, all the writers on earth were reluctantly considering a change of occupation. I remember thinking that I was like Josephine, the opera-singing mouse in the Kafka story: Sing? “She can’t even squeak.”

A novel is politely known as a work of the imagination; and the imagination, that day, was of course fully commandeered, and to no purpose. Whenever that sense of heavy incredulity seems about to dissipate, I still find, an emergent detail will eagerly replenish it: the “pink mist” in the air, caused by the explosion of the falling bodies; the fact that the second plane, on impact, was travelling at nearly 600mph, a speed that would bring it to the point of disintegration. (What was it like to be a passenger on that plane? What was it like to see it coming towards you?)

An unusual number of novelists chose to write some journalism about September 11 – as many journalists more or less tolerantly noted. I can tell you what those novelists were doing: they were playing for time. The so-called work in progress had been reduced, overnight, to a blue streak of pitiable babble. But then, too, a feeling of gangrenous futility had infected the whole corpus….

Imaginative writing is understood to be slightly mysterious. In fact it is very mysterious. A great deal of the work gets done beneath the threshold of consciousness, without the intercession of reason. When the novelists went into newsprint about September 11, there was a murmur to the effect that they were now being obliged to snap out of their solipsistic daydreams: to attend, as best they could, to the facts of life. For politics – once defined as “what’s going on” – suddenly filled the sky. True, novelists don’t normally write about what’s going on; they write about what’s not going on. Yet the worlds so created aspire to pattern and shape and moral point. A novel is a rational undertaking; it is reason at play, perhaps, but it is still reason.

September 11 was a day of de-Enlightenment. Politics stood revealed as a veritable Walpurgis Night of the irrational.

Writers need time to catch up. Publishers need even more time.

I don’t mean to overstate the point: There will always be coming-of-age novels and self-indulgent self-discovery and thrillers and romances; much will not change.

But I do argue that we are now beginning a new era of our culture: Post Terror.

We do not yet know what will be created from this — only that it has not yet been created.

It has been a year…
: … and already, there are many year-after publications. The company behind The National Enquirer put out the first anniversary publication on the newsstands and it is not bad. Vanity Fair and Esquire just released theirs; I’m about to crack them open. The flood begins now.

Of course, it isn’t even a year yet but you have to beat the pack, jump ahead, round up…

Dangerous sports: Jason Priestly breaks

Dangerous sports
: Jason Priestly breaks his back in a race car.

Flight
: An absolutely amazing riff by Ken Layne on crows. Go and enjoy.

We read so you don’t have to
: Blogs at their best are a tremendous service. Their authors scour the Internet for everything interesting and package it for you. A prime example: I did not have time to read Terry McAuliffe’s important speech setting the agenda for the fight against Bush but Nick Denton read it and found its nut graph, which he quotes here.