Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lies My Country Told Me: How We All Died on That September Day

I wrote my first eulogy when I was eleven years old.

The mother of a classmate passed away after battling cancer. It wasn't my first experience with death. By the time I was in primary school the lights had dimmed absolutely for my grandfather, two cousins, an uncle and my dog.

But this was the first time I picked up a notebook and recorded my thoughts. It was my first real poem. I think it probably rhymed, which is an unfortunate crime only excusable when you're under the age of eighteen, and it was likely not very clever or original.

But it gave me a power I didn't realize was inside of me. I could capture the world around me, like a photograph. This is how life is happening through my eyes. Which is something I struggle with to this day. When I try to recap an event, there is always an identity crisis: am I journalist or am I a storyteller?

People in our lifetime will always want to say where they were on September 11, 2001. They want to walk through every second of that Tuesday morning, every step, every movement, leading up to the first plane piercing the first tower, as though it was our own minute choices collectively that added up to the tragedy. "It's like JFK," my father says with a knowing sadness in his voice, "everyone remembers exactly where they were when he was shot."

And others will tell you how they felt. "I was shocked."

"I was terrified."

"My son lived in New York, he was doing an internship. I called and called but the lines were jammed. I thought I was going to be sick."

"My cousin worked in D.C. My aunt was freaking out."

"Let's just bomb the fuck out of the Middle East."

The last line was me. September 12, 2001.

I admit: I was shocked. I was terrified. Just like everyone else living in the United States of America. I didn't understand and I didn't have the patience to try. We were all angry on September 12, 2001. I remember typing these words as rapidly as they exploded in my mind. I wrote to my good friend Dirk in Australia.

He reminded me that there were millions of innocent people in the Middle East who didn't deserve to get blown up. Just like everyone in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the planes didn't deserve to suffer and die.

Later, he would point out that while many Americans were burning the Koran, it was becoming a best-seller around the world. Some choose to turn their back and hate, others seek answers.

That's not where I want to go today.

The real reason for my anger was not just fueled by the terrorists who attacked on that certain Tuesday.

I was furious with my own country.

For the whole of my life, which at that point was twenty years, I had been told that America was the Greatest Country on Earth. We were the last Super Power. People all over the world turned to us--for refuge, for hope, for liberty and justice for all.

Soldiers gave their lives gladly for us, fighting bravely and falling gallantly in wars which we always won and which were always fought fairly, with justification. We were heroes to all and righteousness was on our side.

Every day before class, I would put my hand on my heart and pledge allegiance to a country that would never allow us to be hurt because we were invincible. Pearl Harbor? That was a lifetime ago, and so far away, in a place so foreign, in Hawaii.

That would never happen to us here on the mainland. No one would dare attack us and we would always be free.

I grew up knowing we were invincible. That I could walk confidently under a sunny sky without worry that a bomb would drop.

Of course, this was naive and indicative of total historical ignorance on my part. We had Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Cold War, schools shootings, domestic terrorism (the Oklahoma City bombing) not to mention Osama bin Laden had tried with less success to blow up the World Trade Center back in the 1990s.

I turned the other way, because I simply believed in our country's invincibility. I was more than happy to believe it because I had no reason to see it any other way.

I am not a journalist. This I know, deep inside myself. I live in constant observation but without objectivity. This will always be my story, my photograph among millions of others. I will always feel through my eyes and see through my heart, and I am not going to take your hand and walk you through the minutes of that certain September day.

When the first plane hit, I simply did not believe it. I watched it on TV. I can still taste the mint as I perched on the armrest of the couch, the toothbrush dangling from my mouth as my mother screamed into the phone receiver "We're being attacked!"

My mother was overreacting, and a plane had accidentally crashed into a building. That's all I decided to know as I dressed and got ready for class.

It was real when the college closed and thousands of us walked out to the parking lot. Slowly, silently, shocked. Maybe this is why I've never cared for Zombie films. Somewhere, a car radio was turned up to full volume. We all stood around blankly, thousands of people, listening to this lone radio announcer choke up.

"Today, the United States has been attacked."

What do you do? I didn't know what to do.

I was on the highway. The Pentagon had just been hit. Three planes and maybe a fourth. There could be more. This could last for hours or days or weeks, months or decades or centuries. This could be the first day of the rest of my life. Or it could be the last day of my life.

When the radio, full of static and voices of solemn men, announced the President had gone into hiding, I felt a betrayal beyond words. Logically, we understand the Executive Branch will take cover during emergencies. But when it happens? When it actually happens?

Chaos. But mostly, abandonment. My country abandoned me.

Not the people, of course. We all know the stories of the firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and brave citizens who ran back as most were running out of the wreckage. Those are the heroes.

But my government abandoned me. Take away logic. Logic doesn't exist in the midst of chaos and that's where we were at that moment.

My government abandoned me and this why I write this eulogy today, a dozen years later.

For the first time in my twenty years of life, I drove and looked out the window for airplanes dropping bombs. If my children someday asked me "Mom, what is fear? What is afraid?" I would say "the moment you start to believe a bomb will drop."

My children will never grow up in a world where the United States is invincible. And in many ways, that kills me all over again. In other ways, it gives me hope that we have broken through the blind patriotism--which was never meant to define our lovely and complicated nation--and really learn to question and shape our government. I hope my children learn that a country grows stronger through questioning it, educating it, and healing it rather than boasting of it.

We all died here on that certain September day. There will always be an abrupt break, a thick laceration in the sinew of my life.

An entire nation has post-traumatic stress. We have divided into fervent, unrelenting political parties and dived into extreme sects of religion, specifically Christianity.

And yet, we've come together as a country in a remarkable way: voting a man of color into the White House. That was a beautiful moment that shows hope for us.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Happy Snappies

Taking pictures is a hobby for me. I'm certainly nowhere on par with Moko or my friend's sister Stephaine or my mother, who all take absolutely breathtaking photos.

And I certainly don't want to be lumped together with people who think they can charge for their services because they can do some editing on Instagram. Ugh. That is a HUGE pet peeve of mine.

But anyway. I don't claim to be fantastic and I'm not trying to make any money from it. It's genuinely a hobby that brings me joy. There is nothing better than taking an otherwise dull weekend (no money to go out to all the fun festivals this summer= LAME) and turning it into an adventure behind the lens. It's really fun to go around and look at my hometown with a fresh perspective.

Here's some happy snappies I took this month...

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Not Elementary, My Dear Watson

I just feel like the show Elementary is such a slap in the face to the Sherlock Holmes series. So gross. So wrong.

 1. Location. Sherlock Holmes and London are synonymous. There is no bigger insult than taking him away from London and putting him in New York. It's like Carrie Bradshaw going to Paris or LA in Sex and the City. It just takes the soul out of the story.

2. Sherlock is eccentric and focused. But on Elementary, he is more carefree and quirky, along with being a rather goofy womanizer. Disgusting. Slap in the face. Not an homage to the character but a slow suicide in 22 episodes.

3. Watson cannot be a woman. The dynamic changes. It's awkward and weird and feels like it's always on the verge of some tacky meet-cute in a chick flick. Gross.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Photo Stopped.

What are the "rules" for photography? Where is that invisible line that you shouldn't cross when taking pictures outdoors?

I just spent part of my lunch hour wandering around a neighborhood downtown. The houses are old. Decades. A century or more, even. The architecture is beautiful. Some of these historic homes are run down. Some are kept up well, proudly. Others have the dreaded bank foreclosure notices or city ordinances posted on the windows and doors. Condemned.

I took my camera and wandered around, snapping photos. I was really enjoying myself, getting braver with each shot, when a man pulled his car to the side of the road and demanded to know who I was and why was I taking photos.

He saw my work badge and my name. I had forgotten to take them off. I just smiled and told him I thought the homes were beautiful. He didn't look impressed. I lied and told him it was "for a class."

He drove off, unimpressed. I worried about him knowing my name and where I work. It felt like an invasion of privacy. On the other hand, was I invading the privacy of those who live in these homes?

Yes and no. I would be weirded out if someone was taking photos of my house, if I had one. At the same time, I imagine a lot of people take photographs of buildings in historic neighborhoods.

I'm not sure if it's right or wrong. I wasn't taking photos to hurt anyone. I just wanted to capture the beauty in the structures, rundown, well-kept and in between.

Whatever the reason, I felt uncomfortable after my encounter with the man, so I left. Disappointed.

Thursday, July 25, 2013


The older I get (mind you, turning twenty-nine becomes harder every year), the more I realize I know jack.

Not Jack the Ripper or Jack O'Malley, the kindly priest played by a not-so-fatherly Bing Crosby.

I mean Jack Shit.

There are so many things I want to know. Like why is Kim Fields trending at number one on Yahoo in the year 2013? Did she die? Do I want to bother taking 20 seconds (or 3 minutes, depending on how my internet service is feeling at the moment) to find out?

Not really.

I want to know why conservative politicians are so obsessed with me keeping a baby but they want nothing to do with helping me raise that same baby if I can't afford to raise it on my own. I want to know why my health insurance won't cover $80 birth control pills, even though they save money if I don't have any dependents?

Why does Detroit get to file bankruptcy and why do public schools have to take out private loans to stay open?

Is my dog schizophrenic?

How does PepsiCo make "pure" water and is it a good thing or a bad thing that Egypt's President is no longer in power?

Why on earth is George Zimmerman allowed to carry a gun after killing someone? I know he wasn't convicted of murder, but he still took someone's life. With that very gun.

I like cheese. Why does cheese hate me?

Why would anyone name their baby boy George?

Skittles should be a fruit. They're fruity and rainbow colors. If you drop the bag on the ground, you can say they come from the ground.

Why do I always know just what to write when it's 10 am on a weekday, and when I get home and have the night off to actually write, my mind goes blank?

I think this may be the worst return to blogging ever.