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Question of the Week: 9-11

by Susan Henderson on September 11, 2006

Wade
Windows on the World, 9-11-01
R.I.P., my friend.

Question of the Week:

How has 9-11 changed you or your community?

*

Wednesday’s guest will talk about this.

Daniel Handler’s alter-ego, Lemony Snicket, gets a lot of press for his SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS. And next month, my oldest son will interview Lemony about the final book in that series.

But Dan’s adult books deserve equal attention, and Wednesday he and I will talk about his novel, ADVERBS, which is set in our new America, where people don’t presume to feel safe from catastrophe.

I wrote and then deleted a long review of ADVERBS. I decided to keep it short: ADVERBS made me jealous as a writer. Okay, I said it. It’s original and witty in ways I’ll never be. And it is original and witty in ways that are also deep and uncover tender truths about the human heart.

A better way for me to talk about ADVERBS is to say this: Go to your favorite bookstore, take this book off the shelf, sit in a comfy chair, and read the entire chapter called “Soundly.”

It’s okay to skip to that chapter – just for a taste – because ADVERBS works as a collection of linked short stories or essays as much as it works as a novel, and knowing what happens in this chapter won’t hurt your enjoyment of the rest of the book.

Now, if you’re like me, this chapter will wreak havoc on your emotions, and you will feel alarmed, giddy, nervous, heartbroken, and by the end, you will feel an enormous and hurting love. And also, if you’re like me, you’ll forget to be careful with the book and you’ll dog-ear pages and underline sentences that kill you with how perfect they are.

But it won’t matter that you’ve broken in a book you haven’t paid for because it will have already marked you the way you marked it. So go ahead and pay the ridiculous price they charge for hardcovers, take it home, and start from the beginning. The book is full of fear, obsession, violence, re-location, and loss, but most of it is there to get you thinking more deeply about love.

See you Wednesday!

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

PD Smith September 11, 2006 at 1:05 pm

9/11 was one of the reasons I wrote my book, Doomsday Men. I watched the events of the day unfold on TV, as did millions around the world. It seemed unbelievable, like something out of a disaster movie. Only it was real. I’d been up the Twin Towers as a tourist. It was a breath-taking experience. Watching them fall was like an attack aimed at modernity itself.

Afterwards it really did seem like we had entered a new era: the ‘war on terror’, the Iraq War. ‘Weapons of mass destruction’ was the new and ugly phrase on everyone’s lips. It turned out there weren’t any in Iraq, but there is a real fear of what terrorists may do if armed with a dirty bomb or a deadly virus. It seemed like the lethal technologies of the modern world were being used against us and I wanted to understand where these terrible devices came from and what inspired us to make them.

Beyond the ideologies that inspired this truly shocking attack, it has prompted me to re-examine our own history and culture in the past century. As a writer, this is the only thing I can do to try to make sense of what is in many ways a senseless act.

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Lance Reynald September 11, 2006 at 3:01 pm

one of those things that leaves me at a loss for words.
consumed by sadness and empathy, the most teary eyed empathy.
and fear, not of it happening again per se.
but fearful of the state of vigilance that the after effects have induced.
errosion to the heart of a culture…..

an era of sadness.

and again, I run short on words.

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Carolyn Burns Bass September 11, 2006 at 3:01 pm

The afternoon of 9/11 I sat in my car at my daughter’s tennis practice in Southern California and wrote emails to colleagues in the travel industry who felt the immediate concussion both personally and professionally. Many of them had family and friends in NYC. The sense of loss was palpable.

America changed that day. Those who love, loved harder. Those who hate, grew more hateful. The indifferent lifted their heads from the sand long enough to sigh, many of them burrowing back into their dens until the next big media event forced them out again.

The travel industry which connects the United States to the world through highways in the sky took a plunge on that day. Within months revenues dropped for many of the airlines. Some of the smaller carriers collapsed, while some of the larger ones have gone into bankruptcy in the five years since. People were afraid to fly. Security measures gave the impression of safety, but realists knew better, as last month’s arrests in London revealed.

Still, those who love travel are not easily conquered, for the heart of the traveler seeks adventure.

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Kasper September 11, 2006 at 3:28 pm

The physical fact of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was met with some of the dumbest, most misinformed responses the US has ever mustered– and that is going some.

The horror of being there, being close to the physics of the thing, was, of course, visceral and not reproducible. I have known two people who were nearby on that day, at that moment of disaster. They still have trouble interpreting their experiences.

Making sense of “9/11” and its aftermath will, in my view, entail a good deal of background reading, as Peter suggests, and hoisting off the yoke of the Bush administration and its many lies and distortions, before any real progress can be made toward world peace.

Kasper

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Gail Siegel September 11, 2006 at 3:55 pm

I’m not sure how it changed me. I’ve always been involved in lefty politics, and I’ve always had an unfortunate apocalyptic bent. On an intellectual level, it made me more aware of the divisions within the Islamic community — those pro and anti jihad. It made me more aware of the oppression of women in afghanistan. Our trumped-up response to Iraq made me even more disgusted with G(lobal) W(arming) Bush.

On an emotional level, the extent of the deaths and damage broke my heart, and still do. I know many individuals who lost people in the twin towers. And the knowledge that these tragedies pale beside the horrors we, as americans, inflict on other nations also breaks my heart, over and over and over again.

As a writer, I do feel as if 9/11 and the subsequent wars, and Hurricane Katrina have re-defined what I think is important for me, and for others, to address. I value my own writing about everyday personal relationships less, and stand in awe of writers who manage to address larger, humanitarian themes without sounding scolding or didactic.

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Susan Henderson September 11, 2006 at 6:40 pm

Peter – I’m very excited to read Doomsday Men. When’s the publication date? (I loved your book review in The Guardian.)

Lance – Yeah, this day is more of an ache in the chest than anything I can put into words – but I’ll try my best on Friday.

Carolyn – You said it here: “Those who love, loved harder. Those who hate, grew more hateful. The indifferent lifted their heads from the sand long enough to sigh, many of them burrowing back into their dens until the next big media event forced them out again.”

Kasper – I guess most of you know I’m a pacifist (albeit, a military brat with a long history of living on base or trailing through the Pentagon and DARPA as a kid), and it’s a shame how we took something awful and violent and created more awful violence in response to it.

Gail – Yep, it’s humbling to remember that people in other countries deal with ongoing trauma on this scale and more (war, disease, starvation, and on and on) and the unimaginable toll that must take on the spirit.

Everybody – My hours with the Board of Elections tomorrow are 5:30 am to 10 pm, which means I won’t see you till Wednesday.

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Pia September 11, 2006 at 7:15 pm

Five years ago, I was driving to the office when I heard a plane had flown into the first tower. We lived across the lake from New Orleans, 40 miles away, in a smug, white toast bedroom community. I raced downtown, turned on the TV in my office, kept trying to get my husband on the phone so I didn’t have to watch alone, but his cell didn’t answer. We separated three months later. Our shock and grief about 9-11 was something we siloed with other longheld & unspoken troubles until we ran out of storage. We got back together 9 weeks later, bought a house in a crazy-quilt New Orleans neighborhood, started telling the truth, hurrying to the point, because who wants to die afraid and unspent?

This morning, at the time that the first tower fell, I was driving to tutor sisters who lost their home in Katrina. They’re both in the 7th grade. Keyola reads at a 3rd grade level, Adrienne at a 5th grade level. Neither one knows the multiplication tables. They evacuated late in a rainstorm and saw the car in front of them drive over a bridge. Everyone died. They’re living in a small apartment on Elysian Fields. A woman was killed on the corner beneath their window. Their mom called 911. Over the weekend, New Orleans had 8 shootings. Last weekend, 11. Keyola wants to be a singer, like Beyonce. Adrienne wants to be a nurse, like her mom.

How to get my arms around this ruined city? Now.

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PD Smith September 11, 2006 at 8:07 pm

Hi Susan
It’s due out in spring next year, but that’s in the UK. My agent is about to start submitting the edited manuscript to US publishers… so keep your fingers crossed for me (I’ll be too busy biting my nails to keep mine crossed!).

I’m so glad you liked the review. My own dad died earlier this year so it was a hard one to write. It’s a very good book.

LitPark is great, by the way. It’s so good that it is in danger of keeping me from my writing…

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girlgrey September 11, 2006 at 9:27 pm

all day at school today, i asked my 6th graders what they remembered about 9.11.01 and whether or not they think the government handled the situation well. most of them remembered a few things about the day. several of them thought the government did a good job “because airport security is better now.” more than half of them thought that we had captured the man responsible for 9/11 (saddam). i felt it was my duty to inform them, without voicing my opinion on anything, that osama bin laden was the actual perpetrator of these murders of thousands of sacrificial lives.
a handful of students even claimed to have never heard of 9/11.
i believe, sadly, that 9/11 has impacted my community in this way: our children are less informed about reality and less likely to question authority regardless of the rules imposed, due to the fear mongering and talking heads repeating catch phrases in the guise of news. i also think we have become so accustomed to eating the “information” that we are spoon fed, that we do not even question our sources or doubt the veracity of anyone deemed wonderful enough to be on television. it has impacted my community by creating a society closer to the sci-fi settings we discuss when we cover fiction than to the supposed american ideal of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
so that now everyone in my homeroom says the pledge of alligiance, but nobody really knows what it means.

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Patry September 11, 2006 at 9:33 pm

Buildings are less solid places now, the streets, too. Our world seems much less permanent. Because of that, I give away more, plan less, love with more abandon.

Love your questions, Susan!

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mikel k September 11, 2006 at 9:33 pm

9 11 2006
by mikel k

they dropped
the towers,

who dropped
the towers?

someone wanting
to be a super power?

who died in the towers?
just regular folk
like you and me,

that’s who always
gets screwed,

regular folk
like you and me.

who dropped the towers
who dropped the towers
who got screwed
in the towers?

freedom was a whore
by mikel k

freedom was a whore

i abused her
i misused her
i confused her
with something
else
i neglected her
i bet that she would
be there
for me for forever.

freedom just walked
away.

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Susan Henderson September 11, 2006 at 10:56 pm

Pia – Love you, pz.

Peter – That’s exactly why I run my blog every *other* day and try to keep it short – because I know all of you guys have good writing to do. I hope my blog inspires creativity rather than sapping energy and time. I’m sorry about your dad.

girlgrey – Sigh. That’s discouraging how little kids in this country think about the world. Tomorrow I’m at the polls all day for the Primary, and I’m afraid the people who vote often know just as little.

Patry – You have made the best of the worst. I admire you.

Mikel – Good to see you here! Your poem’s awesome, just awesome.

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Carolyn Burns Bass September 12, 2006 at 4:22 am

Pia, I spent a week in New Orleans this summer and couldn’t stop writing about it. Your lingering grief is vivid. You cannot get your arms around the ruined city alone, but when joining hands with others who care, you’ll encircle the city with hope and help.

Hearing about the controversies surrounding the raising of the NYC 9/11 memorial sickens me. I visited the Pennsylvania site of United 93 the summer after 9/11 and was stunned by the solemnity of the wide grassy field with its spontaneous displays of loss and love. I toured the A-bomb memorial at Hiroshima twenty years ago and the grip on my heart has never loosened. I think every citizen of the world should visit the aptly named Peace Park in Hiroshima, the Pearl Harbor memorial, The Holocaust Museum, and someday also the memorial to 9/11.

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Lisa September 12, 2006 at 5:04 am

Interesting because until today, until writing about it and sharing stories with my students of that day, I don’t think I realized how much experiencing 9/11 and the months after in New York City has shaped the direction of my life.

For a few moments I knew what true fear and true uncertainty is. A fear and uncertainty much of the world experiences each day. This was followed by a demonstration of hatred and revenge unlike any I have seen.

For me, a choice was present, a choice to succumb to this fear, uncertainty, to join in my own war of hatred and revenge, or to find a way to live with this new knowledge that fear and uncertainty were always there and always will be.

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Susan Henderson September 13, 2006 at 1:31 am

Carolyn and Lisa – Beautiful and inspiring words. Thank you.

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Joe September 14, 2006 at 10:04 am

My community was deeply affected by the events of September 11th. Twenty-eight people from my town died that day. I live in a small town.

Five years later and I’m still trying to sort out my feelings. I was in the plaza by the fountain on my way to work when the first plane hit. My perspective is from inside the story. Many of my friends and people I worked with died in the World Trade Center. It’s just sheer luck that I have the luxury of writing about it rather than have someone else write about me. It’s never far from my thoughts.

I have no profound insights, no abstract thoughts on the symbolic significance of the towers falling, no geo-political musings on the antecedents to the attacks. It’s all noise. When you watch your dozenth flag draped coffin being lowered into the earth, when you go through a season of funerals, writing about it seems pale.

Sometimes I think that my perspective is skewed. You know, ‘objects in mirror are closer than they appear’? And if I could only detach myself for a moment and fly above it I might be able to find my way out. I could see the lay of the land spread out below me like a map. But I always come back to the sights and sounds and the taste of grit in my mouth.

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Susan Henderson September 15, 2006 at 1:21 am

I’m sorry, Joe.

You’re a beautiful writer.

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