Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembrance

We were originally going to move over to the new site today, but then we looked at the calendar a little more closely. Ah, 9/11. So we'll move tomorrow. Today I want to remember and share a few things about my journey with you as well.

I vividly recall seeing one of the towers collapse live on CNN this day in 2001. I remember sinking to my knees in shock and horror.

“I can’t believe what just happened,” I whispered.

My daughter came up behind me. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”

My hand was over my mouth. I told her the truth: “A lot of people just died.”

I’m not a native of New York City. I can’t imagine what someone who lives in the city—who had a loved one die or was running from debris or just watching terrified from the periphery—felt that day or how they’ve managed to cope in the aftermath. I guess most of them did what we all have to when life tuns out harsher than we could’ve dreamed: develop a thicker skin and try to move on.

Even though I’m not a native of NYC, I am a New York state resident. I remember the most ominous looking sky the day after the attacks, with positively stark, gray, fat clouds rolling overhead. I remember thinking they were overfilled with remnants of the terrible day-pieces of city and other people's lives descending on my hometown like a traveling cemetery, demanding that all of us pay our respects. They affected me, those clouds and the unnatural storm that preceded them. They made me anxious, and they made me hear the ticking of the clock more loudly than ever before. I began taking my dreams a lot more seriously. I looked at the faded fortune cookie slip I’d kept for years, the one that said, You are a lover of words. Someday you will write a book, and I thought, “Someday is now.”

And so I began.

The first draft of my story was pure garbage and as boxed as dry mac-and-powder-cheese. But at least I was doing it. I wrote the first few chapters of a second draft, and began to feel moderately proud of my work, in April of 2002. I finished the manuscript after about a year, then spent nearly another year editing it, getting feedback, and cutting 150 pages worth of information from its fatty body. I sent it out to a list of top-notch agents and received back a pile of rejections, though many of these were also top-notch. (“We loved your style of writing and unique voice, and would be enthusiastic about seeing future manuscripts." "There is something about your prose that is unique and captivating. You’ve got great potential.” And my favorite, “You’re a luscious writer, with loads of vivid details and language…this is the kind of story I would want to write.”) Despite the lovely rejections, I began to doubt the wisdom of my fortune cookie, because the truth was that I had no idea in the world how to turn those letters into anything other than THANKS, BUT NO. By this point, it was well into 2004.

It took a while—I had a mini dark moment of the soul, I’ll admit—but eventually I decided to follow one agent’s advice and let my voice grow as it seemed to want to. I tried writing other manuscripts and even got about 300 pages into one, but my first story kept poking at my insides, “Psst. This was a really good idea. Unique. Grow it. Make it more and then try again.” I had plenty of false starts, trying to weave old and new. It just wasn’t working. I sunk into a study of craft, studied some more, consulted good people. Finally I realized that if I wanted to salvage the heart of the story, I’d have to pretty much start all over again. I went into deep-think mode in early 2005, came up with a way to grow the story that seemed to have been bluntly staring me in the face all along, sighed with relief and then began brainstorming new threads. I’ve been working on my born-again story for almost a year now, and I'm committed as ever to finishing it.

Days like this remind me how it all began. They remind me of that death-shroud cloud and that life is short. They remind me I still have a lot of work to do but that it’s important--SO important--to continue.

I was recently asked to write an essay about art—about why art is important following loss. What I wrote seems to fit this day, so here it is:

Life is not always kind to us individually, or to our families, our towns, our country or our world. But it's important not to let cheerlessness grow within us uncountered, because it can choke out hope. Art is a great remedy for this kind of bewildered, lost feeling, because when we're in the midst of art we're reminded that life has purpose and that purpose is often joyful. It doesn't matter if you're creating art or admiring someone else's, or whether the art itself appears in a deft brushstroke or a poignant melody or an apt phrase or a lingering touch between two dancers. What matters is art's ability to take us outside of our own experience for a while to remind us that there is meaning beyond despair. Art is able to do this like nothing else because it stems from passion, and passion is--at least for me--nearly the very opposite of hopelessness.

I guess this is what motivated me to write after 9/11 and what brings me back to my wip, regardless of what might be happening around me. Passion. Hope. Find it, then use it well and use it often.

Write on, all.

2 Comments:

Blogger Kathleen Bolton said...

This is a very moving post, Teri.

God, 9/11.

I remember the day as beautiful, cloudless, low humidity. The same as it is right now, six years later, to the minute.

I remember sitting in my office grappling with the snippets of news flashing across CNN.com. I remember wondering where the hell my brother, a US army captain stationed in the Bronx, and my sister-in-law, an NYPD cop and tougher than concrete, were, if they were in that inferno dying or home safe, and slowly going absolutely bonkers at my desk.

I didn't hear from my brother for 72 hours. His battalion had gone on Defcon D and they'd been patrolling the streets for three days solid. My sister-in-law lost her cousin in Tower 1 that day.

It all changed that day.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Cathy J said...

Beautiful, Teri!

I remember that day well. I just didn't understand how a pilot just couldn't see a giant building in front of it. When the second one hit, I just couldn't believe that there were two pilots in the sky that day hitting buildings next to each other ... did the smoke hide the other building for the second plane? My innocence, as well as our entire country's innocence, was gone that day.

I remember looking at the sky that night, and for about the next week, sobbing and realizing that there were only stars in the sky. Those brilliant stars were brighter than ever. Maybe they were illuminated even more with the souls of the thousands of people who were murdered that day five years ago.

The blinking lights from the constant planes were gone. It was quiet without the distant hum of the plane engines.

My husband worked in NYC for six weeks after that tragic day. People change ... New Yorkers who used to be historically known as rude, opened their hears and doors to all of the people who showed up to help them.

Yes, I remember that day well. It may have been five years ago, but it is still so raw and fresh. As much as it hurts, I know I will never forget ... I don't want to forget!

I appreciate every day, good or bad, because I can LIVE it!!

9:05 PM  

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