VivTown, Population: 1

text, images, poetry, miscellany, marginalia

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/11/11

This past Sunday morning I stayed in bed a long while with the radio tuned into the ceremony at Ground Zero.

Remembrance bell at 8:46 am. First readings of the names of the dead.

Exquisite September day: deep blue sky, clean breeze, golden gauzy sun.

As beautiful as it was ten years ago when I drove my sons to daycare and school and headed across the river to town.

I remember when I walked into the office the first plane had already hit the North Tower, but it was impossible to learn exactly what was going on because due to high traffic, CNN.com was completely hosed. The internet agency I worked for had no TV or radio readily available so a group of us left the office and hunted down a TV at a local laundromat.

It was there that we watched both towers fall, our necks craned upward toward the TV mounted in the corner above the swirling suds of the washing machines. I remember turning to one of my colleagues to ask him if he thought Boston was safe from attack, would it be safe to drive back across the Charles River to pick my kids up at daycare and school. He answered “I really don’t know…”

Patti Smith, South Tower gold (monster), 2001, silkscreen with watercolor

Later, after US airspace was locked down like a huge vault, I retrieved my sons and got them safely home, joined by my (now ex-) husband. How good it felt to be home with my family, safe with our books and toys and unmatched furniture.  I turned on the TV and then, almost immediately, I turned off the TV, wanting to shield my 6 and 3-year old sons from the disturbing and violent images.

Consequently, I did not witness with the rest of the nation the monolithic hum of the newscasts, the continual live footage interspersed with repetitive loops of the planes crashing, the  explosions, office workers emerging white and ghostly out of clouds of dust and debris, the horrible sight of people jumping out of windows. I did that later, years later in fact, on YouTube, searching on “Falling Man,” “9/11,” “Flight 11,” slightly ashamed by what felt more like voyeurism than bearing witness.

I don’t remember exactly what I did for the rest of  the day and evening. I’m sure I  cared for my sons, split in half between meeting their needs and mentally processing the sickening conflagration and shock of the historical moment. I must have eaten dinner, poured a few strong drinks, washed dishes, gone to bed tired — grateful to be alive.

Four days later, I was laid off from my job. We were scheduled to be laid off on 9/11 but due to the attack, our NY headquarters, which were located on Wall Street, had been unable to bring off the sizable layoff according to plan.

In the weeks and months directly following 9/11 my personal life underwent a series of shocks and explosions — reducing what I thought was a sound structure into i-beams and wire, my marriage turned to ashes. I will always somehow associate the Falling of the Towers of the World Trade Center with that private devastation, my own personal “ground zero.”

I’ve been wanting to share this photograph of an Inuit driftwood map. Once, long ago, someone resolutely paddled along an arctic coastline in a kayak, whittling a map out of wood. A quintessentially human endeavor.  To my eye, the contours of the map echo the contours of Patti Smith‘s drawing above.

Smith, a New Yorker to the bone, performed a free concert recently to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the events she witnessed firsthand, and of which she has written, spoken and made art about (her powerful series of drawings about 9/11 can be viewed in the book Strange Messenger: The Work of Patti Smith). During the performance Smith spoke:

“In the last ten years what have we done to create a better world?” she asked. She listed: Guantanamo Bay; the imprisonment of John Walker Lindh as “a scapegoat”; the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and the recent bombing of Libya. “I had great hopes on September 12 that we could communicate and rebuild our world,” she continued. “I think we haven’t done a very good job of that.”
— New York Observer

Smith is good at naming the shadows and failures in our midst. What I admire about her as an artist, as a person, is that she looks at life directly without flinching. I agree with her. We’ve done a lousy job. And yet, I witness daily the resolute mapmaker in many of us.

As a nation, I believe we stand exhausted and literally spent after a long delirious journey of progress, empire building, and consumerism. We’ve been riding some powerful horses indeed. I believe that 9/11 was a wake up call. We were catapulted from the saddle and thrown into a new, perhaps inhospitable, place.

May we find our way in it.

posted by viv at 2:38 pm  

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