Cross-posted on The Bilerico Project.
This is a photo from my first trip to New York in 1979. That's me in the middle. I was a freshman in the theater department at Miami of Ohio. The department, or maybe it was just some of the faculty on their own, coordinated a Thanksgiving trip to New York every year to see Broadway shows. We'd leave in buses on Wednesday night, drive all night, arrive at the Picadilly Hotel in Times Square on Thursday morning. (The Picadilly was demolished in 1982 along with 5 historic theaters - the Helen Hayes, Morosco, Astor, Bijou, and Gaiety - to make room for the Marriott Marquis Hotel.) On that trip, I saw Sweeney Todd, the Elephant Man, They're Playing Our Song, Ain't Misbehavin', the Fantasticks, and fell deeply and irrevocably in love with New York. Two years later I moved here. (In case you didn't recognize the background of the photo, that's one of the towers of the World Trade Center. We're posing on a Masayuki Nagare sculpture, which was also destroyed on September 11.)
I've been avoiding all the 9/11 memorial stuff like the plague, so when I opened the New York Times Magazine yesterday morning to a piece by Bill Keller, called "My Unfinished 9/11 Business," I turned the page quickly. But I changed my mind, went back and read it, because I thought someone like Bill Keller might have something thoughtful and interesting to say. In it, he waxes at length as to whether or not, with the benefit of "hindsight," his enthusiasm for the Iraq invasion was justified in that it was provoked by the trauma of the 9/11 attacks.
Of course, with the anniversary of September 11, we have to endure a glut of if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now, which frankly makes me sick and furious. (It wasn't the only reason, but it was the big one, that I became so adamantly anti-Hillary Clinton.) Let's be clear: hindsight, my ass. We all knew Bush had an agenda in Iraq and that it had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. We were marching screaming it in the streets in cities all over the U.S. during the run-up to that invasion. Spare me the sad-eyed regret. You wanted a war and you got it. And I don't want to hear about how the World Trade Center attacks were a horror of such magnitude, unleashing an evil upon the world like no one had ever seen before, which distorted our perspective, so we should forgive the excessive response. The events of 9/11 were monstrous, but they were just the next atrocity in a relentless timeline of atrocities in a tangle of conflicts if not caused by, then at least goaded on by, the United States and other Western governments' meddling in the Middle East.
A fifth grader can tell you that the answer to a problem caused by stirring up trouble in the Middle East will probably not be solved by stirring up more trouble in the Middle East.
So, yes, Bill Keller and everyone else who, with revenge in your hearts, cheered on Bush's war should be feeling regret and shame. The last decade has been an unholy nightmare -- for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, for our troops, for the people of the United States whose freedom has been limited in ways we can hardly imagine the consequences of. Sometimes I wonder if American democracy will ever recover from the power grab of the executive branch justified by these wars. Satisfied?
In September 2001, I was living in a camper on the road with J, my partner of 10 years and R, whom we had met on the road several months earlier and who had moved in to join our life and relationship. We'd been living for a year completely unmoored from place, possessions, friends, and family. We had taken to the road with only our relationship and artistic collaboration to affix us to the world. And now that was disintegrating. J's and my relationship, and with it our career performing together, was dying a slow, sad death.
On September 11, we were camped in a state park just outside Ithaca, New York. That morning, R had an infected hangnail on his thumb so he drove the van into town to buy antibiotic ointment and band-aids. When he returned, he said he'd been listening to the radio in the van and had come in on the middle of it so he wasn't sure what was going on but that the World Trade Center had been attacked by airplanes. We all got in the van and turned on the radio, I think to an NPR station. The announcer said that one of the towers had fallen. I remember we all looked at each other like "How could it just fall?" I also remember that, though we were shocked and concerned for our friends in the city, I felt like somehow I was floating just outside the world where this horrible thing was happening. Probably because my life was falling apart, because what was happening in the camper and in my heart was so compelling, I barely had room for this other thing.
A week later, we did a show at HERE Arts Center in downtown Manhattan. Driving into the city, we saw the column of smoke still rising from lower Manhattan. We saw our friends. There were no adequate words of comfort or reassurance after such a terrifying event, but we were reassured that our friends were safe and well. The next day we left.
Still on the road, we were cut off from most media during the aftermath. Just the radio in the van. Our dear friend A called us several times in the next weeks, sobbing. She said every time she'd pull herself together, she would see on TV the video of the planes flying into the towers and people jumping and the towers falling and she'd start crying all over again. I didn't know what to say to her except, "Turn the damn TV off! It was terrible but it only happened once. You're reacting to it as if it's happening 50 times a day. Just stop watching it."
I still have not seen that video, and I don't want to. But now I live in an apartment and we have a TV, so it's going to be hard to avoid during this orgy of nationalism and self-pity.