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Writer's Block: 9/11

What were you doing on September 11th, 2001? How do the events of that day hold meaning for you now?

I spent the day in a chat room hanging out with other writers watching to see if some members of the community checked in, who lived in NYC. It took about 12 hours because one of them had to walk home from downtown because the bus service wasn't running.

The events of that day... it didn't have the same impact it did on many people because I never believed it couldn't happen in the USA. I wound up mostly being supportive to other people who were breaking down and having a hard time accepting it. But I was very, very careful what I said to anyone for a long time after because of the sense of oncoming hysterical riot.

What I feared was some of what happened next. The way constitutional rights were immediately abrogated. The weird powers given to Homeland Security. The atmosphere of panic, the witch hunt against anyone ethnically Middle Eastern. Most of all the screaming blithering panicky wave of conformity that fueled a level of censorship I hadn't seen before in my life -- but knew of because the McCarthy era ended the year I was born. I dreaded exactly that. It did happen. I survived it.

I was scared of the violent nationalism that swept everyone after it. I watched it happen on the BBC net broadcast, with commentators going "It's like a movie, you can't believe it" and I believed it. That was a disaster. Yes that was amateur footage. Yes, people are capable of doing these things. No, this country isn't mysteriously sacred, it has a large army and a handy couple of oceans separating it from most aggressors but it's a part of the same planet with human beings on it.

I don't like nationalism. I don't trust nationalism.

I wound up losing my chance to just go to Canada whenever I felt like it without any fuss. I have trouble mailing art to Canadians. I have trouble with all sorts of things now. In the aftermath of it, Homeland Security has destroyed what was once something I could take pride in -- the speed, efficiency and low cost of the American Postal Service, which used to be extraordinary and has turned into an immensely confusing snarl-up where the private package delivery services are generally more efficient. The regulations themselves are so confusing any given postmaster doesn't agree with the next about them and the price of sending something varies with which postmaster you go to.

There's some of the aftermath. And it comes out of the panic created by 9-11.

Yes, the people in the fourth plane were brave when they rushed the cockpit and took it off target. Yes, I admire them. That was the right thing to do. Yes, the first responders on the spot in NYC were heroic and wonderful and behaved the way all my life I have seen first responders do in the face of any disaster -- I honor them -- and all the ones who die in Less Famous Fires and Disasters doing the same heroism every day with scarcely a two inch clip in the paper.

The same mayor who arrested all the homeless people in NYC who were too afraid to go into the shelters on Christmas Eve got out and made speeches. Yep. That's what they're paid to do and I listened to the speeches and thought well, this is going to really make his career. I do not put him in a category with the first responders. Anyone, including me, in that position would have got out and made speeches to cheer everyone on and thank them for what they're doing. It's the least thing you can do and what politicians are hired for.

I can write more openly about it now because it's been eight years. The trouble it caused, the reaction the enemies who did it wanted to cause, has already happened. I suppose it is history now. But gods, people, can we back down from the ironclad grip of paranoia and stop persecuting people who look like the people who did it?

I watched it happen and listened to all the cries for vengeance and thought This is insane. The people who did it are dead. They were suicides. They just died in the process. They are beyond any vengeance.

They were not good Moslems. Every single Islamic person I've talked to has had a list of Koranic quotes as long as your arm for why the people who did it were not acting rightly according to Islam. They killed women and children, noncombatants. They did it blindly and killed themselves in the process putting them beyond anyone's judgment but Allah's, and most likely had a nasty surprise at the end of that.

Has anyone noticed how much money bin Laden's family has been giving the Bush family over all these years?

Hindu women who wear veils and traditional clothing get harassed along with Moslem women. Because they look like the enemy. But those people are not the enemy. My country lost large chunks of religious freedom and other freedoms along the way and this event brought out the worst in it. Please. Let's honor the heroes, yes. But start looking back at the Constitution and clean up our own house, do what's right starting at home, and quit persecuting anyone who happens to look like the suicides who did it.
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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 11th, 2008 08:18 pm (UTC)
Every single Islamic person I've talked to has had a list of Koranic quotes as long as your arm for why the people who did it were not acting rightly according to Islam.

Just like all the militant Christians who believe that in picketing the funerals of homosexuals, they're doing God's work. :/ Or the idiots in any religion you can think of.

The people who thought that such things couldn't happen in America just boggle my mind. Did so many people really think that they were so separate from the rest of the world that atrocities couldn't actually happen on their doorstep? It's sad, really? Too many people, I think, see horrible things in movies and on the news, but because it's either not real (movies) or happening elsewhere (news), they think that they're above it all. It's not real to them, not relevant, so why does it matter?

Not that I think that there should have been no reaction to the attacks. I do, however, think that a good number of the reactions were knee-jerk ones, pointless, doing nothing but making tiny scared people feel more secure about their national penis size. "Spend more money or the terrorists win!" As you mentioned, the racism that reared its ugly head. The crying out that God's punishing America for being too liberal. The restriction of freedoms. I remember when I could cross the border with my parents with little more than my parents saying, "Here's our passport, we're landed immigrants, that's our daughter in the back seat," and we'd be sent on with a smile and a wave. We don't live in those days anymore.
Sep. 11th, 2008 09:17 pm (UTC)
Yes. That's exactly it. I was always aware of the Christian label violent bigots, so it wasn't much of a surprise to find that poor Islam was subject to them too and the mindset seemed very similar. Oddly it's always these violent extremists who are first to call themselves "fundamentalists" while going farthest from the core scriptures of what they're fighting for. This is something that I think of as evil no matter what religion's being maligned by it.

That denial was the most common reaction I saw to it, people who were completely boggled because their paradigm of how the world works shattered. I'd been aware of the possibility ever since I saw the first BBC news about terrorism in England or France -- I can't even remember which country the first terrorist bombing I saw on the news was, it's been that long.

"I couldn't believe it. It was like something in a movie. I just couldn't believe it was happening." I heard that from so many different people and read variations of it in every interview.

I miss Canadian border freedom and I miss having a reliable postal service with a consistent low cost. At least it's been long enough now that the pendulum is swinging back and you don't have mobs coming after you if you're liberal or against racism.

The mentality of Crusaders is the same on both sides, terrorist types will ignore all the precepts of the religion they're fighting for in order to gain their ends of hurting people, punishment over all.

There is a short story based on 9-11 that I did not write at the time, because I'd probably have been lynched for it. I'm not sure but the time may be right to write it soon. It's a weird-luck story about some bloke who was trying to quit smoking under pressure at home and slipped on it, went outside to have a smoke at the right time and stood out on the pavement watching it happen and then pitched in with other civilians helping the first responders. Then went home and sorted things out with the home situation. It picks up two unpopular things. But at the same time I was hesitant because this big disaster was so burning hot in everyone's minds that to create a fictional character involved in it and do a story would've seemed like making light of it. The story's just about how a near miss could make someone rethink his life and could be anything, but I got the idea during those 12 hours and did not mention it to anyone in my writing group because most of them were freaking out in "I can't believe it, it's like something in the movies."

The amateur camera owner was actually a good cinematographer with a good viewpoint, that may have added to the "like a movie" aspect.

The attitude "things like this can't happen" or "bad things don't happen to good people" is a virulently dangerous one that leads to all sorts of bad things happening to good people without support and without any provocation other than outrage at having that bubble busted. I don't think I've become callous.

But I haven't been callous about it when it happened in other places either and gods, I feel for the people who live in places that it happens every week.
Sep. 12th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
One of my sister's friends, living in New York at the time, had a lot of friends who died that day. He cleaned up his own life and became a responsible contributing citizen. So it isn't just a fictional story, and I agree that now might be a good time to write it.

More broadly, a lot of people think of the event as having united everyone as Americans. But that wasn't the case if you weren't white - as all the ethnic mid-easterners saw, and also other Asians. I read a comment on another blog about how white guys in pickup trucks drove around throwing rocks at everyone that looked like a foreigner - including him, an Asian American. He made the most of it though by hiding in his room and just taking part in the unity via online means instead. Even so, alongside the thread of American unity, there was also the strengthening of "us vs. them" that nobody seems to talk about.
Sep. 12th, 2008 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you for that observation. I think that regardless of ethnicity, I'm usually insufficiently white in attitude. That really makes sense to me, when I remember who else was going (Ack! Yikes! Return to McCarthy and racism! Better keep our heads down.)
Sep. 12th, 2008 12:53 am (UTC)
I've been browsing the 'writer's block' comments and yours -- and your commenters' -- are some of the wisest and most insightful I've seen.

Sep. 12th, 2008 03:56 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you! Much appreciated!
Sep. 12th, 2008 08:21 am (UTC)
That was a very long day for me. I was working (and I'm leaving out some details for various reasons) but as soon as the attacks started we were on alert and my partner and I were checking critical sites for anything suspicious. Given the part of town we worked we were swamped ALL shift. We had 2 of 3 sports stadiums, city hall, police HQ, the jail, the city and county courthouses, the Federal building, the Federal courthouse, the main ferry terminal, the RR tunnel under town, the tallest skyscrapers, the financial district, the train station, several sensitive freeway locations, many other infrastructure locations, and the "Galactic Headquarters" for Starbucks.

I remember being in a bit of a haze driving through Chinatown (which is normally pretty busy at that hour) and having a guy wave us down. He was just walking along with a tiny portable TV and he wanted us to watch as the first tower was just collapsing. It was a very strange interaction and it always seemed he was relieved we were there looking and watching but he knew he had more information and was comforted by sharing that information with us.

There were several incidents that day that screamed suspicious in light of everything else and at one point I just couldn't believe that people didn't understand that given the circumstances these normally routine incidents were high risk and high stress.

I remember two specific incidents where there were such major reasons to be concerned but none of the civilian parties involved seemed to understand. Now I look back and think that is part of the reason people armed with mere box cutters were able to cause such tragedy.

For all the bad that happened on that fateful day a lot of good happened as an unfortunate side effect. Many people stopped living in bubbles their whole life and began to get involved when things weren't right. Since that time it is unlikely that 3-5 people with box cutters could bring a plane down without challenge. Some, not all, but some of those who were on cruise control have checked back in and are a little less invested in the "me me" attitude and more likely to react to threats against us.

That said, we recently had an incident where a delusional man on a bus thought he should attack a blind woman because she was "inferior" and deserved to die. The attack went on unabated on a crowded bus until a handicapped, elderly gentleman stepped in. He was lauded as a hero and got so enraged he spoke out about the busload of people who refused to engage. He himself was one, hoping a more able-bodied person would step up first, but he finally reached the limit of what he could endure. He bristles at the term hero because he only took action when so many others refused. To me this is a genuine sign that reads, "We have forgotten!"

That is just scraping the surface of 9/11 for me but it's time for me to stop writing before everyone stops reading. :)

Sep. 12th, 2008 08:58 am (UTC)
Thanks, ofinsea.

It would have been very different if I were in a profession like yours. I understand what you mean that incidents a civilian wouldn't think of as serious were high risk, and I'm sure a lot of those happen all the time. Maybe you're right. I'd like to think you're right about the box cutters and people's reactions.

Your perspective is valuable. I read a blog from a man who was in the military at the time and had friends in the Pentagon. Everyone's experience is different. But to this day I don't think it would've helped anything if I'd been in shock and gone into panic -- it just would've been a panic, and it might have done some harm.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )


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