On Truth and Education: the Shifty Elephant and Skittish Donkey

The recent clash between the President and Senator John Kerry is too instructive to leave to the sensationalistic talking heads that miss the meat of what the event should lay on the nation’s table: the colossal hypocrisy of the Republican party and the equally sizeable spinelessness of the Democrats.

Senator Kerry told a group of college students last week that if they didn’t get an education they would end up “stuck in Iraq.” Later, clarifying, he insisted he’d been taking a swipe at Bush—who, obviously, has gotten stuck in Iraq. Bush and his Foxy minion Tony Snow, for their part, came out smugly swinging, providing the Commander in Chief the opportunity to claim, in front of a sympathetic audience, that Kerry’s comments were “insulting and shameful” and he owed the brave, intelligent men and women of America’s armed forces an apology. After unleashing a lot of bombast against the gall of these “Republican hacks” in “stuffed suits” and refusing to apologize, Kerry bowed to Democratic Party diplomatic heavy-handedness and did indeed apologize.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, in a nice Spanish-Indian bar in Barcelona, I sat with my close friend Alex who was visiting from Los Angeles. The Catalan wine was going down well and the place seemed to sow cathartic political discussion. After I decried the tactlessness of Kerry’s comments, the stupidity of handing such ammunition to Bush, Alex complicated the matter brilliantly and, I’m sure, will allow me to now paraphrase him:

“Wait a minute, though,” Alex said, “what if Kerry had used his comments as an opportunity? What if he hadn’t run from the truth of what he said or tried lamely to dissimulate it?”

The truth: in America we have a long tradition of doing exactly what John Kerry suggested—sending the poor and undereducated off to die. From WWI through the current oil-slick quagmire it’s been the immigrants, the inner city black and Latino youth, and the rural poor white youth that our Presidents and Senators ship off as bulwarks against fascism or cannon fodder for Exxon/Mobile.

What if Senator Kerry had kept his feet firmly planted in the soil of that truth? If he had said, “That’s right—I chose to go to Vietnam and I saw with my own eyes the brave, unprivileged people that were sent alongside me. And what is ‘shameful and disgusting’ is that the President and his friends in the oil industry are continuing this practice while stroking the ‘pride’ of dedicated soldiers.” How much might that have changed the incident, which will now be forgotten as nothing but another flap over “patriotism” in a long and dirty campaign season? Perhaps much would be different.

But no one out there in front of the Capitol is so different. That’s the point: even John Kerry, a combat veteran and avowed opponent of Bush, didn’t have the spine to stand up to the spin and bullying of the President and his silver spoon, draft-dodging ilk.

To me it represents the worst of the Democratic Party: spineless, simpering cowardice. And it represents the worst of the Republicans: shameless manipulation and, yes, whoring of the courage and spirit of America’s military to push forward an illegal, greedy war and Republican Senate campaigns.

But, in the end, Bush and Kerry come from the same social class and neither one of them will ever see their children’s blood spilled on the thirsty battlefields—in the name of ideology or oil. And maybe that spotlights the real inadequacy of our options for political leadership.

Out of the Freying Pan

(Note: so I’m in the midst of fighting for this essay–that is, submitting it to many publications and being repeatedly disappointed by very flattering rejections because everyone has already published at least one article on the subject. Thus it has found a temporary home here. But it represents a great deal of thought and emotion and work and if anyone has a lightning bolt of brilliance to hurl at me about where I might ought send the SOB, please do let me know.)

The tension in the air was as thick as the Carolina August that shared it. It carried right over from the classroom to the house party. In the Creative Nonfiction workshop, headed by our most senior CNF professor, a student had recently handed out a searing piece of memoir that had brought tears to many eyes. I can’t now recall all the details—I wasn’t in the class and never read the piece—but it included the news of the author’s father’s death. By all accounts it was an expert, poetic, deeply stirring and brave piece of art. Problem: in workshop, the author was forced to admit that his father was alive and apparently well.

The anger at this “betrayal” by other members of the class was pure and overwhelming; if there were some present that sided with the author, they were quite passive about it. I can recall bitter gazes in the wet eyes of a handful of young women as they swirled ice and relived the offense. By all accounts, though, the professor demonstrated his tenure in this particular trench by calling a cooling off recess upon the author’s announcement. He then reconvened by laying ground rules about how the imminent fray would take place and dominated the give and take of ire with authority and facilitation. He did not allow a feeding frenzy; on the contrary, he parlayed the occasion to broaden debate. In so doing, he retained the respect of both the enraged students and the controversial author.

The author truly believed what he’d done was permissible—to the point of becoming choked up himself during the ensuing discussion even as he insisted that the essay was to have a “part two” in which the truth would have been born out. To some extent though, particularly after the workshop, he mocked the naïveté of people who believed themselves capable of and qualified to demarcate the borders of a genre. According to the reflections of friends and colleagues who were present, I think it would be safe to say that his main aim was to toss a match onto that pile of rags to see the whoomph! Being a first-year student and virginal to all these things, my allegiance fell silently toward the author. On the whole, I found what he had done amusing and provocative, a cathartic cage-rattle in the stuffy academy. It was only with a great deal of personal and artistic evolution that I would come to see this author’s actions as destructive.

Let’s face it: literary culture has swung, arm in arm, with pop culture into the present societal moment. Our society is either adorned or infested with (depending on your appetite) reality television shows (Who Wants to Marry a Midget?), movies based on “real events” (think Spielberg’s latest, Munich), tabloids, twenty-four hour cable news channels, and expensive internet sites that offer nothing more than views of ordinary people going about ordinary lives. The range of voyeuristic pleasure that has taken root is diverse and undeniable. And, right alongside, memoirs and other nonfiction books have cleared considerable elbowroom on the endless shelves of novels. Some of these have risen from the ranks of the mere literary and actually become “popular”—Angela’s Ashes, say, or, perhaps most famously, Sebastian Junger’s A Perfect Storm. While Frank McCourt weathered some controversy himself for alleged exaggeration of poverty in his Irish boyhood, Junger’s is an interesting example for us here. The work crested as a book and a film with astounding success in both media, and yet no one seemed to care that, as nonfiction, it was an elegant crock—the significant part of the story takes places on a ship that was forever lost at sea. Yet you can be sure that the alchemy of nonfiction and its allure is what transformed it from a good story into a blockbuster.

So why, then, have we witnessed the firestorm of indignation over James Frey’s multi-million dollar best seller, A Million Little Pieces? After all, Junger was certainly guilty of invention and playing fast and loose with the facts in his opus—in fact, one could argue, the size and scope of Junger’s conjectures dwarf the liberties that Frey took. Frey portrayed himself as an outlaw wanted in three states by wildly fabricating and embellishing events—for example, he transforms a detention of a few hours into various prison sentences of many months. He also conjured a role for himself in a train accident that killed two high school acquaintances. Frey went to fictional lengths to establish himself as the bad guy (or as he himself writes, “Criminal”) he needed to be for the book to function. Junger, on the other hand, sketches a detailed chain of events that no living being even witnessed.

Here’s the two reasons why people are enraged with Frey, in this author’s opinion: one, people knew that Junger was conjecturing. He made that rather evident by the way he structured his story, the plain fact of what he set out to do, and in his introductory remarks. Two: people don’t care if you make up a shipwreck tragedy because the story is not an intimate experience; it’s impersonal (except perhaps for those readers who have been shipwrecked). People do care if you shamelessly lie and embellish in the course of an intimate, wrenching tale of violence, death, loss, love, and addiction. People really care. Oprah cares (as she made evident when she stripped Frey of his Oprah’s Book Club title and gave him the third degree during a second appearance on her show).

And people in MFA programs care. I can attest that even excluding the drama of the undead father the debate about the parameters of genre is alive and crackling in the classrooms. In fact, it was probably the most common theme of discussion in my three years in a MFA program, both inside the classroom and at other social and literary events. To their credit the faculty (intentionally or not) brought this controversy alive for us by often disagreeing. And we enjoyed visiting writers who were quite markedly at odds with one another as well.

For the sake of simple explication, let’s say there are conservatives and liberals. The extreme of conservative position can be illustrated by the notion I once heard expounded—quite seriously—that “if you can’t remember what color shirt your father was wearing on that evening in 1978, you can’t just invent it.” Batting for the liberal side, we heard an elegant young memoirist insist that composite characters—that is, characters composed of two or more real life people—are entirely conscionable and even a good idea. I’ve been told by other liberal mentors that the invention of dialogue, scene, and just about anything else is not only ethical but necessary to write a memoir.

So, the conservatives might say: “do your homework, do your legwork, research, fact-find, and piece things painstakingly and responsibly together.” Liberals might retort: “If we haggle over details, we’ll never get the story told—emotional truth is more important than factual truth.” It is not surprising that most conservatives, in my experience, are journalists and biographers, and most liberals are memoirists and essayists.

For my part, I was an abashed subscriber to liberalism for quite some time, especially as my own essay/memoir collection unfurled and I found hard facts as elusive as I found colorful, vague recollections abundant. I never wrote—or at least never handed over—even a paragraph that I was uncomfortable calling The Truth; I toed the line in my conscience as best I could, albeit with an increasing desire to be done with my nonfiction thesis and move on to the land of liberty: fiction.

As a “TA” (read: adjunct professor), I carried the incendiary potential of this debate into the undergraduate classroom. I searched out the most liberal of memoirs and essays and pressed my students on why certain actions were or were not permissible. They stumbled for a while, unsure of their authority, but little by little they learned that there truly were no “right” answers, that the debate was wide open and they were invited in. We looked, for example, at Michael Ondaatje’s memoir Running in the Family, in which he gives a long, lyric narrative account of his grandmother’s last moments riding flood waters through a small town in Sri Lanka—something he was not present for. We read Joanne Beard’s excellent collection, The Boys of My Youth, in which she writes from the perspective of a coyote running alongside her car in the desert. In another piece she details the play-by-play of a massacre carried out at her place of work one day when she went home early. Several of her colleagues perished.

I found that a majority of my students—most of whom had been severely warned by high school teachers against ever using the word “I” in a piece of writing—had strong opinions. Some believed that if Ondaatje had indeed studied the newspaper reports and oral histories from Sri Lanka, then he had a basis upon which to piece together such a narrative. And although Beard had clearly done more research to back up her massacre piece, some of these same students deemed her wrong to take liberties with such subject matter. Clearly there was—and is—much confusion and emotion that imbues this question, which I would submit is not merely “academic” but actually integral to human storytelling in any form.

However, all muddling aside, my students helped me to reach the most valuable lesson lurking in all of this. They taught me by their participation and by their fabulous, terrible, nascent attempts at creative nonfiction. Their excitement—the palpable, rewarding, cathartic energy—did not come from being able to “make stuff up” about their lives. Rather, what they found inspiring and energizing and what they helped one another to do was to find the language to tell the truth about their lives, the capacity to make their stories valuable and lasting and real and readable—and therefore accessible to the rest of the world. They became authenticated and confident and real to themselves. And they became more thoughtful, sensitive, and clear with their peers. By the time the semesters petered out, and portfolios swelled, and we revisited the question of genre borders a last time in light of all their work, I heard the same wisdom from many of them: there exists a contract of trust between a memoirist/essayist and the reader. There is no way to draw or govern the parameters of a genre—it is absolutely impossible (no matter how many Smoking Gun-like website crucify guys like Frey). And, in this sense, parameters cannot exist. For this reason, an author has to do his or her best to tell the truth, acknowledge when he or she is conjecturing, and never, ever deliberately lie.

Ironically, after crafting such a monstrous retrospective of himself, James Frey would like us to believe the best of him: that he was an innocent newcomer, a wide-eyed rookie to the game of nonfiction literature, and that his lies and embellishments were protected by the invisible provisions of artistic license (and we must suspect that his publishers encouraged this thinking). At worst, Frey is a cynical and dishonest opportunist. Whatever the case, I think it inarguable that Frey has done a great disservice to this still-raging argument and thereby to the genre by prioritizing creative license above his responsibility to tell the truth compellingly—as my teenaged students learned to do quite well with considerably less experience. He showcased the worst of the liberalism and justified the conservatives’ most severe charges and put the credibility of Creative Nonfiction at risk. He screwed things up for other courageous books about addiction and grief and recovery both by planting wild doubts in the readership’s collective mind and by making some publishers as skittish as beaten dogs before the prospect of putting out anything similar.

But, in the end, maybe we should be grateful for Frey even as we condemn him; perhaps we should see this is an opportunity disguised as a betrayal. Maybe by igniting the pandemonium and hauling this academic discord out onto the public stage, it will become clear once and for all that people expect an authentic attempt at the truth, that as authors we must have our lines drawn sharper, our personal ethics healthier, that there is an innate and special trust in the genre despite the implausibility of bylaws. It occurs to me now that through all of this we might see something that escapes us in the tawdry cyclone of reality television and tabloids and prurient news: that maybe there are elements of decency, empathy, and solidarity that call us to read difficult stories like Frey’s. Maybe we want to believe in love and healing and surviving so furiously that we simply won’t stand for any corrupt flourishes. Maybe we should be thanking Frey—even if he is laughing, all the way to the bank.

Congratulations Hermano!

Today is a happy day (anyone who knows me knows that I’ve probably never written that particular arrangement of words before in my life, so it’s truly special) as I’ve learned that my little brother was admitted to the University of Washington Medical School. He deserves it like crazy, like Ren deserves Stimply, like Itchy deserves Scratchy, like Bush deserves the guillotine, like Nasrallah deserves Olmert…but I digress.

He could have hustled to have strings pulled to get into a number of excellent schools but he didn’t–he busted his bony ass and got into the best one in the country. So bravo, KC, lift a bottle for me and for happier times than we’ve had in the last years.

If anyone wants to write him, do (don’t worry, you won’t get locked into any long-winded correspondence; he sucks at email):



The Room Has Fallen

Over the pond and back again to the thick of Dixie where Falling Room was conceived and born. Ok, it wasn’t conceived there and, furthermore, I robbed the title of this blog entry from Tom Kunz, who deserves all the credit for documenting the three days on Wrightsville Beach. Well, he deserves credit for more than mere documentation, but we’ll save that for his wedding day.

UNCW was kind, generous, and loyal enough (thanks Bekki and Sarah especially) to bring me back out to the old, muggy stomping grounds and read from my first book. I hope that someday I can bring them some kind of good fame and not merely the reputation of accepting delinquent leftist weirdos to their supposedly “prestigious” program. While the reading itself went very well, being handed the key to the CRW
Department’s beach house for three days was pretty much the crown of it all. Dave Smith rolled out from the black banks of the Lumbee River, Tom Kunz traveled all the way from Monkey Junction, and Marc and his lovely daughter Isabelle merely descended half the eastern seaboard. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves (dangerous business, I know), but the point of this short was to say this:

I left Wilmington last week through a blur of tears. What composed this attack of emotion is complex and hefty and rooted in the torrid history of my life in the last five years. But suffice it to say that for far too long in the City of Azaleas I associated the place and many of the people with my grief; wrong circuitry got burned into my brain which instructed me that I’d be better once the chapter was over, as if it were the fault of the Spanish moss and purple storms and thick air that my father suffered and died or that I was stuck in a horrendous relationship. I realized far too late that my sorrows had nothing to do with the environment and, further, that I had fallen in love. Not only with semi-tropical Dixie, the quaint haunts of the Port City and Cape Fear, but also with several souls who were a blur to me for two thirds of the time I lived among them.

This is to say that my tears were mainly fueled by regret, but also by nostalgia and gratitude for having been gifted a chance to write my story on pillars of quiet love and loyalty.

Thank you Dave, Marc, Tom, Pat, Isabelle, Nate, Kimi, Heather and David for a memorable and sweet (if, ahem, blurry) weekend in the season’s last sun.

Ok, enough with that. Here’s the party.

Then it was out to South Carolina to catch up with some of my long lost kin, of whom I make a policy not to take pictures. Not because they’re not attractive, they are, but just for legal reasons….

Then to my sweet friend Jessica Smith, freshly home from Wales before splitting for the frigid northern reaches of Wisconsin for a panel on healing and writing with the fabulous Canandian poet and my friend, Rachel Rose. But I don’t have any pictures of Wisconsin either.

Here’s a picture of Jessica. She’s thinking about Fat Tony….

Ok, now’s she’s thinking about Kaya….

Ok, so it’s officially a NON POLITICAL BLOG ENTRY. How’d I do??? Let me know.


(was that political?)

Of Rednecks and Royalty (Who knew?)

Thanks to Dave Smith, of course, for pointing out that I ain’t all that far from eastern NC when it comes down to it…..

The Spanish King and his Poor Ego

Viva Sean Penn

“In fascism, one serves a state. Let’s show the world that with democracy we can make the state do our bidding. And that such bids would not be the blind ones given exclusively to the friends of power, but rather the domain of the people of freedom everywhere. This in an administration that advocates torture, deceives the public, spends billions of dollars on a failed war. This is an administration, where in the year of Katrina ExxonMobil claimed the highest profit margin in the history of world business. It is an administration that belittles, demeans, deceives, and indeed kills our brothers and sisters, our sons and our daughters. In the human family, the President is indeed pushing his wheelchair-bound grandmother down the stairs with a smile on his face.”

– Sean Penn/Serious Bad Ass

(Besides, he married Madonna, punches tabloid reporters, and loves guns)

Fascism Anyone? (In Case There Was Any Doubt)

14 Points of fascism

The link to this entire article, which includes examples of each of the below:

In his original article, “Fascism Anyone?”, Laurence Britt (interview) compared the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet and identified 14 characteristics common to those fascist regimes.

1.) Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays

2.) Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights: Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3.) Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4.) Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5.) Rampant Sexism: The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6.) Controlled Mass Media: Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7.) Obsession with National Security: Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses

8.) Religion and Government are Intertwined: Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9.) Corporate Power is Protected: The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10.) Labor Power is Suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11.) Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12.) Obsession with Crime and Punishment: Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations

13.) Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14.) Fraudulent Elections: Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

Like my father (RIP) used to say, “Fuckin’ Yikes.”

Ok, Ok, Wedding Photos

Lili and Helena Doing Their Berber Thang

Giant Panda Busting Wedding Rhymes

Lili and I Being Sufficiently Embarrassed By Something Onstage

At Home (Only Missing the Kaya)

KC and Mom, Jetlagged

Jeff and Helena–Family (Soon to be Hitched)

¡Que Viva España!

Israeli PM Olmert Faces War Crimes Suit in Spain

Spanish National radio is reporting that a lawsuit is being filed today in Spain’s high court against Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is being accused of committing crimes against humanity for ordering military attacks on civilians in Lebanon and Gaza. In recent days, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has expressed concern that senior Israeli military and governmental officials could be prosecuted overseas for committing war crimes in Lebanon. Israeli legal experts say some officers or government officials who traveled to Europe stood the risk of being arrested.

Democracy Now! September 6th, 2006

(I suppose it’s too much to hope Bush is next)

Of Whores & Patriots: Let’s Remember 9.11

Amid the ratings-concerned media blitz that’s supposed to take us back into the horrible moments of September 11th, 2001, you can pretty much gorge yourself on whatever your appetite is: imagery of simple carnage; imagery of massive urban devastation; tear jerking video of people clutching hands and plummeting to their deaths; war-pig drum-beating for revenge; intellectual rehashing of strategic failures; fervent conspiracy theories; somber church services; peacenik protest; and, most of all, booming, massive, mainline doses of what far too many have no come to claim is “patriotism.”

But memory is important—not the stock memories that CNN feeds us nor the melodramatic houses of cards that Oliver Stone builds for us now. I mean our memories, the way we honor and love and, necessarily, hurt.

Here’s what I remember:

Tuesdays are my slow days I’m awakened midmorning by a call from my girlfriend at her new job, selling coffee in downtown Wilmington.

“Wake up, baby, turn on the news—some big catastrophe’s happened in New York.”

Sleeping in the shafts of Carolina sun is so sweet, that I doze again for a few minutes before hauling myself to the sofa and turning on the news. I twist the Venetian blinds open as I click the television on, so the horror erupts on the screen as the tranquil blades of light cut the room. My vision is swimming and I fall back onto the scratchy sofa and hold my head in my hands—as the first tower smokes and then buckles in real time and Aaron Brown of CNN slowly turns damp eyes back at the camera, says quietly, “there are no words,” and drops his microphone.

This from a trip one month to the day after the towers fell:

As the 747 banks a turn around Roosevelt Island and veers in, I can see the wreckage arching like bad post-modern art out of the skyline. It seems that smoke still rises from the rubble, but I’ll later learn it’s merely dust—composed of particles of bone, retina, skin, cartilage, and even the human heart as well as steel, concrete, glass. It’s sent to orbit each time a dump truck rolls away with gravely ashes of capitalism. Around me, all the passengers are white-faced, most of them weeping, the plane a funereal spiral down to the tarmac.

At ground zero, Hassidim circle with devotional Hebrew whispers, their gazes confined to one another and the spectacle to the north. A gaggle of Midwesterners pull rolling suitcases over the curbs and through the crowds, snapping blind, high, one-handed shots with disposable cameras. Deadpan bike messengers and business people duck the pointing arms of ambling tourists. A line of impatient officers pretend to regulate the scene, yelling out gruff commands to keep on moving. I muse on the similarity to Bush’s instructions to the nation: stay in motion, carry on, shop.

The dust is identifiable everywhere: it coats the suits of commuters and the uniforms of cops, making them appear figures on an old television screen, muted. There are the faintest of tracks on the ground; the buildings are an identical beige—at least up to the twentieth or so floor. People of color are particularly striking as the off-white layer settles, as if they are fading slightly to ghostly. One Arab man selling NYFD caps and American flags whips a kerchief over his bored face every few seconds.

The truth comes to me like a nightmare does: this drifting dust is not simply composed of the toppled towers. The horror has not penetrated my mind until now: this dust is also bodies. Certainly that gruesome fact had hit me, sitting in front of CNN at some point before this, but it had been composted away with all the other images and awful facts. Particles of bone, retina, skin, cartilage, and even the human heart, are mixed in with the innocuous silt. When I can, I remove myself from the scene, my mouth covered with dirty tee shirt.

Here’s what my best friend (RIP) described in the days following September 11th from her home across the Hudson:

Driving home from work, i couldn’t take my eyes off the thick smoke smoldering in place of the towers, nor could i hold back tears. It seemed that no one could in any of the cars around me. Envoys of dump trucks full of buildings’ debris roll past like a parade. And even though we’ve had two incredibly clear, sunny days, from here we can’t see the sky. The wind changed directions today so all the clouds of dust and smoke loom, it’s like the sky is expressing for us. Memphis [dog] can’t help but shake with fear every time the sound of military jets disrupts the eerie quiet of night. The city is silent except for the sounds of trucks removing the wreckage. It’s all so strange, everyone is waiting. And aside from the racist violence, we are wrapped together under this cloud, all careful not to disturb the sorrow. There isn’t even any kind of relief effort to organize, hospitals are waiting too, quiet because there is no one alive to treat. And it is a military state. Hummers and jeeps are the majority of cars on the roads. Check points everywhere.

Whatever manner in which we choose to remember, and whatever memory means to each one of us, let us all climb aboard one rapidly sailing piece of truth that will whisk straight into the present and should put fire into our veins: our government has exploited the death of every one of the innocents, using their murder and the agony of their families as a road to war, in which they have murdered thousands more of our innocents—to say nothing of innocent Arabs—to steep themselves yet further in oil riches.

Let me be crude and honest: the Bush administration has shamelessly whored every person who lost his or her life that day; they have turned them from victims into whores. And with every shot that’s fired, every bullet that wings from the barrel of a M-16 into the skull of an Iraqi, every curlicue of shrapnel that carves the life from another young American, the ranks of the whored swell.

So when we remember today, let’s remember what justice means. Let’s remember that the patriots are the kids in the desert being whored by the traitorous war pigs. Let’s try to remember that patriotism means fighting for the good and the safety of your home, which is what each one of us does every time we dare to raise our voices against the robbery of patriotism, against the robbery of our young men and women, against the ever-increasing endangerment of our way of life—which the Bush administration threatens far more ominously than any other force.