Tuesday, September 18, 2001
Hi. It's been a while.
If you are reading this more than, say, ten years from now -- or maybe more than fifty -- it may not immediately occur to you that I'm writing this a week after the biggest terrorist attack in history, in which four hijacked planes were used to kill thousands of people. America is shocked, grieving, and preparing for war.
It's been weird being in Switzerland. In America, and particularly in New York, it seems the last week has been chaos -- not just the endlessly recurring images on CNN and in the papers, but planes not flying, shops closed, everyone talking about it, people frantic, people walking around like zombies; and in New York, of course, the cordoned-off sections, the dust plume, the grit in the air, the mutilated skyline.
Here, there was plenty of news the first day, everyone was talking about it at work, and a few co-workers asked me if everyone I knew was okay: then that was it. Blue skies, trams running, movies showing, people thinking of other things. It's remote; the US is a vacation spot, like Thailand or South Africa. People are relieved no one I know was hurt, and apprehensive about what America's reaction will be. But they don't seem to feel it as a cataclysmic shift in the way things are; they haven't gone from living in a peaceful, orderly world to living in a world at war. They might adjust their travel plans, as they usually do when unpleasantness breaks out in one or another favorite destination. But they aren't wondering: will I be next?
This has made it harder, in some ways. Friends in New York have had to turn off the TV in order to keep sane; I found I was grateful for all the invasive coverage of people grieving and the endless repetition of the images of disaster. I felt like I was hammering myself with images, until it began to feel real, like something that was actually happening. I felt like I had to do this, because it is my country in ruins, and because of the way everyone in America who I talked to was feeling. I wished I could be there with them, but CNN was the next best thing. I felt that if I stayed wrapped in the peaceful wet-cotton Swiss cocoon, it would be a betrayal, and I would somehow also be losing something sacred and critical.
The images of the towers being hit and collapsing never did manage to penetrate. They are too unreal; as everyone has said (it's become an instant cliché), it looks above all like Hollywood special effects. Only one image -- of the people waving from the second tower after the first went down -- got through. They must have known.
What made me cry was that interview with the CEO of the WTC company which lost 700 employees. Losing a son, mother, sister that way is too hard to grasp, stays unreal; but somehow this lesser thing, the burden this man felt to provide for 700 families got through. That and the crowds cheering the firefighters, with posters reading "We Love You" and "Superheroes". Acts of generosity slip through the membrane of my emotional defenses, where acts of violence cannot.
I went to the post office to mail a poem, "To Work", to The Sun.
"First class to America," I said, passing the envelope across the counter.
The lady there shook her head.
That was the first and only time, in that small way, that the chaos reached my life Switzerland. Until then, it could have been a trick played by my friends and CNN.
So let's see... I sent "A Siege of Cranes" to Black Gate first after all, skipping Realms of Fantasy. I did this after lurking on the Black Gate newsgroup on sff.net for a while and coming to the conclusion that they were doing really well -- 60% sellthrough at Borders, apparently, which is supposedly really good for a magazine. The story is really much more their style than RoF's -- I did write it for them, after all. And people on the Rumor Mill are forever bitching about RoF's response times. And Black Gate takes email subs.
My story cycle "Other Cities" -- composed of 12 unrelated short-shorts, all sketches of cities -- sold finally to Strange Horizons. They'll run one a month for the next year. The first one, "Bellur", is up already.
The critique group of my Clarion West classmates is off to a good start: I got lots of excellent feedback on "The City of Peace". I tried to go back and revise that story, but it was slow going; at the moment its themes are too close to the events tearing at our hearts.
I think I may devote some more time to "Crimp" soon -- Lord knows I've been avoiding it long enough, trying the infinite patience of my collaborator Ramin, who luckily is the kindest and most forebearing of men. I'm intimidated at getting more into it, because it's a novel. In a way I feel I should dive into a novel and work on only it until it's done; but on the other hand, there's no guarantee it'll ever be done, and I have so many stories that are almost there...
I've been awfully remiss at uploading pictures of Aviva, I know.
Our friend Jeanne Kramer took a beautiful series of photos in April, which are here.
With other friends at Clarion: 1
Here's what I wrote to a friend about life with Aviva:
aviva is pulling herself up on things and standing up, waving her arms around and declaiming proudly, "bababababaBA!" She is tolerant of her 5-o'clock shadowed daddy hunched in his bathrobe on the couch, glued to CNN. She crawls over to him and thumps her forehead against his feet until he notices.
She likes being upside down a lot, and she likes it when other people are upside down, too, particularly when they suddenly appear, upside down.
She's a well of joy that we drink from every day.
It's Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year. L'shana Tovah Tichatevu: May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet year.