September 25, 2001

The sky is a bright, yellowish gray; again I wake up to such an intense noxious smell I am sure the building is on fire. Today I turned in the last chunk of medical encyclopedia; the past week has been one of those nightmarish times of working, in decreasing blocs of time in decreasing concentration, then napping, then waking up and sitting back in front of the piles of pages that never seem to decrease. Things I resolved:: never to take work without seeing a sample; never to take work on a project where the amount of editing needed is in vast disproportion to how far along the project should be; never accept hand-editing (my hands were cramped claws with huge blisters); and never work for under $25. There are other things I want to do with the time this stole; and yet, added together, my billable hours hardly agree with the stress and omnipresence of onerous-dreck-hanging-over-head.

Went to the Empire State to hand it in in person. Office faces south, and, as the tallest building now in Manhattan, an unobstructed straight-shot view of the ex-WTC; probably a cinematographic view of the disaster itself. I didn't ask. Harold, in a roundabout anecdote (Bill Russell interviews Kareem Abdul-Jabar, says "you're pretty good". Harold says, "so, you're pretty good at this) finally gives me much-needed validation that I kick ass (and have saved theirs) at editing. I'm offered another book, a knitting book. With the tentative economy, I accept. I also find out that last week Heather Woodbury, close friend and colleague, has won the Kennedy Center Playwrighting Award, a prestigious and fairly lucrative grant that I helped assemble for her. Despite my self-chaos, I hope to get her Guggenheim Foundation application in by next Monday's deadline

We are too accustomed to peace and prosperity to take in at a deep level that our lives and priorities might change, whatever our obsession or information-gathering around disaster, war, safety. Witness the customer at the deli where I got a morning coffee berating the counter-guy "Everyone shops here! Annie is so sweet. But you.. you're.. horrible! Crabby! You never get my sandwich orders right, either!" She stalks out, leaving her sandwich and the Korean counter-guy takes it out on a black youth who asks for a straw for a soda he bought elsewhere; "Why you ask for straw! Why you want straw from me?"

Collateral damage at such deep levels and widening, flat surface ripples. What if you were the person who called a meeting that brought people to the WTC? What if a friend covered your shift at Windows on the World (where everyone who was there died, and everyone who was not lost their livelihoods. The Times coverage of this has done a good job of contrasting the backgrounds and resources of these largely-recent-immigrant victims with the top-notch mid-life professional demographic that dominated the WTC workers. Movingly, the Windows on the World workers, from dishwashers to freight-elevator operators, were inordinately proud to have arrived at the defining symbol of american culture, sending money and pictures of themselves at their recognizable workplace to far-off family.) What if you'd asked a friend to run an errand in the Plaza? What if you sold the hijackers their ticket and told them "have a nice day, sir"? What if you'd lost a loved one at Oklahoma City or in the first WTC bombing and had to hear politicians and rescue workers, cornered by the press to describe that which we have no conceptual framework for say "those disasters pale in comparison." What if you've had a loved one die in a traffic accident over this last week, where it seems as though the country's love and attention is focused on one group of fellow citizens and has forsaken others? What if you have memories of previous personal trauma that are surfacing or torturing your dreams? A fire at your house that seems never to have ended now that everything smells like burning, all the time?

We must strike the world as some autistic, cheerful giant; our overpersonal conversational style and consumer wastefulness, our voracious and acquisitive travel habits, our wilfull ignorance of our deeper, intricate, historically complex and often shameful foreign policies, our oppressive multinational branding. And yet our sweet naiivete that our lifestyles are enviable and open. It's so shocking and ironic that it was that very innocence that was used so successfully to use our very own materials, in our very own country, from our very own airports, to attack from within. The cordial and open welcome we afforded to traveling students and businessmen, the belief in universal goodwill, and the inability to plan for or secure against that which is alien to our national character; these endearing, maddening American traits were exactly those that the terrorists enjoyed, exploited, and tarnished. A terrible loss of innocence, one perhaps viewed with ambivalence by even our allies,as if a wake-up call to the consequences of world domination was well-overdue.

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