In normal academic circumstances, one possible solution would have been to cut the book in half, so that one article focused on Doyle and the other on Williams. I never liked the idea, though; I’d written it all in one go, as one large argument, and in fact, part of the essay hinged on the fact that both Williams studied medicine just a decade or so after Doyle had. One relates very explicitly to the other.
I liked the idea. I remember the moment I found the book that mentioned that changes in medical education in England and Europe (and Edinburgh, where Doyle studies) had taken a few years to get to America, right about when Williams was entering medical school at the University of Pennsylvania; it tied the whole thing together perfectly. The discovery excited even my advisor.
So splitting it in half wasn’t something I wanted to do, but that meant there was really no place for it. Besides my hard drive. For a decade.
The very first essay I wrote at USC was called “What I Saw That Day (9/11/01).” It was an essay I’d been trying to write successfully for several years but never pulled off, and I thought bringing it to my first non-fiction class and submitting it for workshopping would help to improve it.
And I was right. Thanks to Madelyn Cain-Inglese and my classmates, I finally felt as though I’d written something worthy. I think that’s the only way I can describe it. So much has been (and continues to be) written about that day, and my feeling’s always been that if I don’t have something to contribute I’d rather leave the discussion to others.
“What I Saw That Day (9/11/01)” was something I wanted to contribute to the collective cultural memory.
I wrote “The Come Back” the first time I visited New York after writing that essay to my own satisfaction.
In May, when I heard the news that American Special Forces had killed Osama Bin Laden, I started a new essay. I started it with the intention of posting it here, but it ultimately became something rather more. It became something of a discussion of how my life had changed after September 11th.
And as it did, I thought it would be fitting to create a new book for Kindle. Something specifically honoring and chronicling that day and discussing my experiences and memories of it.
I know I got very wrapped up in the election and discussing it. I hadn’t meant to. I hadn’t meant to avoid it, exactly, but I hadn’t realized I would become so focused on it. I think I got so wrapped up in it because McCain/Palin scared me so much, and because I thought there was so much at stake.
A lot of it was wrapped up in my feelings about September 11th. I realized that before, but watching Obama’s acceptance speech drove it home. I’m only 30 and ain’t been alive long, arguably, and missed some major cultural milestones. I may be mistaken, but I don’t think any man has walked on the moon so long as I have been alive. The sixties are full of a lot of cultural imagery that will only ever be grainy footage to me; JFK and RFK and MLK. I came in at the tail end of the seventies, and missed free love and freer sex. While I enjoy the Beatles music in some ways, I still don’t see what the big fuss was about, and by the time I came around, Elvis was gone, too. I enjoy few movies made before 1980, Star Wars being the most notable example.
Still, the other night, watching Obama accept the presidency, I thought of what I have seen. I saw a black man become president of the United States, and while I know that racism is in many ways still alive and perhaps too healthy in America, I think it’s the surest sign there’s hope.
I remember this, too:
Which was in 1987. Two years later, in August 1989, 28 years and one day after it was constructed, that wall came down:
I think a lot of us had that feeling first thing Wednesday morning, just after midnight.
The end of one era, and the beginning of a new one.
(I’ve just realized, too, that 28 years and three days after I was born, I left for USC. That’s kinda neat)
Because the other momentous thing I’ve seen during my lifetime is something that too often hurts too badly to talk about too much. A few weeks ago, I caught the premier for Life on Mars, a show by which I was singularly unimpressed save for a single moment:
I often feel like that day started a time of corruption and incompetence carried through 7 long years. Seven years during which America lost internationally most of what reputation it had, invaded countries it had no right to attack, ‘defending freedoms’ it had already taken away anyway.
I don’t know what Obama will do, nor what he will change. I don’t know that he will be a good president. But I think he has both dignity and integrity, two things the office of the presidency have been sorely lacking for a long, long time (and not just during this past administration. I like Clinton, but dignity and integrity are not words that come to mind when he does), and I feel comfortable enough with the next four years (at least) in his hands.
I don’t think much will change for a while; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Berlin Wall didn’t fall the day after Mr. Reagan challenged Mr. Gorbachev. Then again, September 12th, 2001 saw the sun rise on a world completely changed from the one that had existed just 24 hours before, so who knows?
I don’t. But here’s the thing:
While I don’t remember much about the morning of September 11th up to, say, 8:50 or so, it is because that day at that point in my life was unremarkable, which means it was a good morning. It was a morning on which I woke up a little later than I wanted, brushed my teeth, walked a block up to the PATH station at Journal Square. It was a morning I walked from Herald Square at 34th and 7th to my office at 40th and Madison, and if I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary during that several block trek, I will claim it was a good one, because those walks were, back then. They weren’t all sunshine and roses, of course (not many rosebushes on the streets of Manhattan), but after that morning, those walks were different, and they disappeared all together several weeks later.
I cried when I watched Obama’s acceptance speech, just like I cried when Hillary Clinton spoke at the DNC. I cried when I watched McCain concede. Not because I was so happy, though there was that, but because I was feeling something with which I had been unfamiliar for so long. I watched the polls and results with hope but also with caution, and even posted over at Making Light that I would believe it only when he took the oath of office.
Because the thing is, when you’re so scared, when you feel so beaten down, when you get so wound up and anxious, if you feel that way long enough, it can be hard to give it up. Watching Obama speak, I started to give it up. I started to let the sun shine in again. I started to feel myself open again, and that’s something I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Watching Obama speak, I started to realize that things might not always be so dark as I felt they were.
Then again, I also know that I may well be projecting my personal feelings onto those of the country as a whole. I took this election more personally than I took the one in 2004 because I’ve changed in the years since. In 2004, I was working as an assistant editor and living in my parents’ basement; this just a couple of years after I had graduated college with all the promise in the world and gotten a great gig at a prestigious advertising agency. In a way, I think I felt I was going backward if I ever felt much at all, because I know at times I was going just to go, doing just to do, coasting through to get by. This year was personal because I don’t feel that way. I’m working and living and doing. I’ve stopped waiting around for life to happen and started to make things happen, and I think I projected some of that feeling onto the election. I think I felt as though, since I was changing, the world should, too, somehow, in however small or large a way.
I think, too, I felt ready.
I don’t know what the future will hold. I don’t know what tomorrow will be.
But just the hope of it makes me smile at the possibility.
For now, that is something. For now, it is enough.
I dig Bill Maher, mostly. Like his stuff. I mean, he’s neither Eddie Izzard nor Jon Stewart, but I do appreciate both his candor and his challenge. I agree with him often, but often mostly in the sense that I agree with Jon Stewart: not in the sense that I’m lefty or liberal or whathaveyou, but more in the sense that I just find the whole system and process completely absurd, as well as many of the participants therein.
I don’t really watch television, though, so I rarely catch Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. I’m sure I could catch recaps, somehow, but I’m rarely so inclined.
I’ll tell you, though: I’m totally inclined to see his new “mock documentary,” Religulous.
I may even start using religulous as an adjective. Seems like, on the hierarchy scale, things would be first ridiculous, and then totally ludicrous, and then absolutely religulous.
Trish, whose birthday is Dec. 7th, another day of infamy (I see you opening Wikipedia in another tab. It’s the anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack) wrote about it at “Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’?” and she’ll be happy I got the punctuation right.
I chose the United Way because I, personally, go way back with them. My father used to work at a local Mobil refinery and volunteered with the United Way when I was a kid; I remember, some summers, he used to get to use a van for a few weeks, though I realize now, thinking about it, I haven’t a clue why. Also because it was one of the reasons the Boy Scouts of America began to change its policies regarding discrimination based on sexual orientation. For a long time, the BSA denied membership to anyone gay, but some units actively began to defy national tenets in favor of keeping United Way funding.
That means a lot to me. The Boy Scouts was one of the most influential organizations in my life, and I value that every bit as much as I hate their discrimination policies.
Anyway, that was my mindset going in. And this is the mission statement of the United Way NYC:
United Way of New York City creates and supports strategic initiatives that address the root causes of critical human care problems in order to achieve measurable improvement in the lives of the city’s most vulnerable residents and communities. Throughout our work, we partner with neighborhood agencies, government, business, foundations, volunteers and others so that collectively we can achieve more than any one organization working alone. By leading programs that get at the root causes of problems in these five key areas, United Way of New York City creates lasting, systemic change: homelessness prevention, access to healthcare, education, building economic independence, and strengthening New York City nonprofits.
But now that I think of it, really, I realized I should put the question to you. Because it is, after all, your money. Is there somewhere else you’d like to know it went? I’m wondering if donating it to the American Red Cross might not be a better idea, as that would actively help other people affected by very similar tragedies, and Lord knows it seems to come up every year anymore.
And to everyone who mentioned it (I went by WordPress’ incoming links widget, so if I missed yours, let me know, or put it in the comments, please): thanks again.
In the spirit of lightening things up here a bit, I figured I’d post something more cheerful. To quote Tom Hanks in That Thing You Do! (which is certainly one of the most underrated movies of all time), I thought I’d give you something happy, something poppy.
Because it’s a perfect day for a ride, ain’t it?
I should really just sell the damned thing. Manhattan just isn’t a place for such a beast, much less the Village. New York’s a walking town. A subway town. Sometimes a bus town, and some other times still a taxi town. It’s a bustling town and a jogging town, a drinking and dancing and staying-out-till-4-am town, and in fact it’s a different kind of town just about every minute for just about every person in it, but it’s not so much a driving town. There are too many cabs, too many long limousines with precious celebrity cargo, too many delivery trucks and big buses, too many Lincoln Town Cars shuttling CEOs to the office and back. The air is too bright and the sounds are too vibrant and the color is too loud to be shuttered away from the world by four windows and a growling engine, but still I keep the dilapidated duster.
I tell myself I keep it because I wouldn’t get much for it. The old lady who used to own it never did know much about anything she put a key into, and the engine’s hoarse in her memory. The duck tape on the torn cloth top; the old, nearly bald tires; the muffler that might as well not exist—selling it might cover a month’s rent or a fancy night on the City, but not much more.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway.
But I know the truth. I don’t keep it because selling it wouldn’t make enough; I keep it for days like this.
You also mention how your employer’s front desk attendants just waved you by that morning without checking your ID, but never again after that. What else has changed for you on a personal or professional level that sticks out in your mind now?
God, where to start there? I mean, what hasn’t changed, really? On a personal level, I moved back home, stayed for five years while overcoming depression, then drove cross-country to study, and now live in Denver. On a professional level, I taught and trained, then edited, and then went back to school, and then again became a professional writer.
But I think what’s more important is what I see has changed on greater levels. For example, I think we, as a country, are more naïve now than before. That might seem counterintuitive, but before that day, I think we would have laughed at a color-coded emergency-response system. I think we would have been outraged at the idea of illegal wiretapping, and I think we would have, rightly, run our collective leaders right out of office (I mean, heck, we impeached one guy for a blowjob, but not another for misleading our country into war?). I think that day was the first time we, as a nation, realized we could be hurt, that we are, in fact, mortal, and I think it scared the hell out of us, and I think we’re still recovering from it. Now, the people who attacked us are still at large, and we’ve demonstrated our utter inefficacy to fight them on a massive scale.
Many thanks to Shannon for his support and involvement in all this.
Late at night, I wonder if she ever really had feelings for me. That’s what’s been most difficult: not her leaving, but rather wondering if she was honest.
What’s most difficult is . . . did she really look at me, try to get to know me? Was she open to it? Does she really not have time, or did she look at me and realize, nah, not this one (and then there’s the nagging, well, if I’d handled my feelings better, would it have changed anything, but no, that way lay madness)?
That’s what counts, mostly.
I’d say that she was the first girl in a while I felt anything for, that she was the first girl since my ex- that I really wanted, but that’d be a lie. There were three years between my ex- and her, and those years weren’t filled with girls, no, but they were filled with misplaced emotions.
Misplaced emotions. Not like I lost anything. Just kinda stopped thinkin’ about where I was puttin’ shit.
I fell for her. Girls will only play the games you let them, will only hurt you as hard as you let them, and she crushed me and hollowed me out because I let her. I let her get inside me, and why?
Because one day I saw her smile, and one day she kissed me back, and one day I let her in.