This is a piece I wrote two years ago, shortly before we marked 15 years since the terrorist attacks on America that changed our nation and our world:
“I SEE WATER, I SEE BUILDINGS”*
*the words of American Airlines flight attendant Madeline Amy Sweeney, moments before Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
The 15-year anniversary of 9/11 is just two months away. It sounds strange, inappropriate, to use the word “anniversary” in context with that terrible day in not just American history but human history. An anniversary typically celebrates joyous occasions, like weddings or dedicated service to an employer. Some chroniclers employ the word “commemoration” instead of “anniversary,” but that doesn’t sound quite right, either.
How to characterize the marking of the 15 years that, unbelievably, have passed since Sept. 11, 2001, is less troubling to me than is the complexity of my own emotions. Like most people, I responded to 9/11 at the time on both a collective and personal level. I imagine my response will be just as complicated as Sept. 11, 2016 approaches. On the one hand, I remain deeply moved by not only the tragedy that cost so many their lives, but the sacrifice of all the men and women who tried to preserve life: the police officers, firefighters and volunteers at Ground Zero, the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93, the survivors, the widowed, the motherless or fatherless. Yet the disturbing truth is that politicians with agendas, the idealogues and the blow-dried cable-TV talking heads will surely exploit the recognition of the 15 years since the 9/11 attacks to fan the flames of jingoism, racism and aggression. I gird myself even now for confrontational dialogues while striving to remain respectful of those who actually deserve my respect.
Sometimes I see in my dreams the World Trade Center towers, never edifices of great beauty but nevertheless impressive sentinels that rose high above New York Harbor and became part of the multifaceted personality of America’s largest city. In my dreams the towers are always standing, impregnable, as they should be today. I only see them fall and crumble into dust in “day-mares,” moments when my thoughts drift darkly and I recall the Tuesday morning a decade and a half ago when it felt like the world was coming to an end.
I was not in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. Nor did I lose a loved one in any of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But I was far from removed from the day’s horrific events. I was working as an editor for a newspaper in San Diego, and when the towers were struck, all pursuit and reporting of other matters ceased. The job for everyone in the newsroom, regardless of beat, became monitoring and disseminating details from New York, Washington, D.C. and the open fields of Pennsylvania. Just as important, I discovered, was providing emotional support to the dozens who phoned the newspaper and wanted to know what most of the time we couldn’t answer, or the youngest, wide-eyed members of the staff who moved numbly through their duties and wondered aloud if this might be the first day of a war to end all wars.
“Be calm. Keep calm. Focus. Do what you have to do.” My words to those around me, and my words to myself.
A year or so later, after reading one of several Sept. 11-related columns I’d written in the newspaper, a friend accused me – there’s no other way to characterize it than an accusation – of being “obsessed with 9/11.” She was laughing as she said this, but I don’t believe she thought it was funny. Without saying so, I believe she thought I was sick. Without saying so, I believe she was suggesting: “You’re being morbid.” “You weren’t even there.” “It’s in the past. Move on!” Move on? To where? The Land of Denial? Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood of Make Believe? Never Never Land? Anywhere you can drive or take a train to, but avoid a jetliner?
Sometimes I think of water bottles. About five years after 9/11, I found myself in the audience at a one-woman show by New York-based performance artist Karen Finley. At the climax of a work she called “The Distribution of Empathy,” Finley placed two same-sized water bottles side by side on a table, then covered them with stark burlap wine bottle bags. As the lights lowered, she abandoned the stage while singing an echoey, ironic “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” The lines that cut through me the sharpest were: “The dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn. The taxi’s waitin’, he’s blowin’ his horn. Already I’m so lonesome I could die.” I sat there, trembling, in the dark theater and thought of how bright and blue the skies were the morning jetliners were crashed into the Twin Towers. I remembered how it was when you walked down a major street in New York City and saw the sea of taxicabs jockeying for position in traffic. I tried not to think of lonesomeness, and loneliness and death.
I remember how the character Richard Dreyfus played in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” couldn’t get out of his mind the stark image of that Devil’s Rock monolith. Sometimes, and as I write this now, this is one of those times, the Twin Towers are my Devil’s Rock monolith. They haunt and enchant at the same time, and for me they are just as elusive as Devil’s Rock seemed to Dreyfus’ cinematic everyman.
As the anniversary – there, I said it – of Sept. 11, 2001 approaches, I expect the image to crystallize and linger and perhaps travel from “day-mares” to my dreams. I’ll take my chances. What I won’t risk is succumbing to the urge to pay any attention at all to the vitriol sure to fly during all the televised run-up to the anniversary date – there, I said it again – or to the drivel that passes for intelligence or, heaven forbid “citizen journalism” in the blogosphere. This can only lead to anger, and if I embrace any anger 15 years to the day after 9/11, I want it to be directed at those responsible.
My gamut of emotions no doubt will mirror those of many friends, neighbors and people I don’t even know: pain, sorrow, regret. The president and the clergy and the mainstream media will urge us to remember the heroes as well as the victims of 9/11 and, without saying so, to “buck up.” “Heroes,” sadly, has become a cliché, and buck rhymes with a word that would seem a suitable response to hollow encouragement. But those who genuinely seek to comfort can only do so much, and they will speak words that we have heard thousands of times before. To accept or reject them is our choice.
I believe on the morning of Sept. 11, 2016, if I can, I will drive to the seaside, stand in the ocean air, cup headphones over my ears, listen to Peter Paul and Mary singing “Leaving On A Jet Plane” and remain very still until the song is over. Then, to borrow from Prince Hamlet, the rest is silence.
Join me for a celebration of my recently published anthology of short stories, titled "Raining in Paradise." As you can see from the photo of the cover above, I'm using my pen name on this book, Barrett McCloud. But that is indeed me!
The book party is happening Saturday, August 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Inspirations Gallery in Point Loma's Liberty Station. The gallery is located on the second floor of Barracks 16, which is just south of the Liberty Station Public Market. The actual address is 2730 Historic Decatur Road, SD, 92106. There is plenty of free parking in a lot adjacent to Barracks 16, and street parking is also available.
I will have copies of the book for sale for $10, though you certainly are not obligated to purchase one. Feel free to come any time between 6 and 8 and stay as long or as briefly as you wish -- I will do a reading from the book around 7 p.m., FYI.
There will be free wine or bottled water as well as light snacks in the gallery space.
I look forward to seeing you there!
"Raining in Paradise," my anthology of short stories and poetry, has now been published in both book and e-book format. You can find it, for now, by going to Lulu.com and searching the store. In the next week or two, the book and e-book should also be available via amazon.com and other online retail outlets.
This is a work that's actually many years in the making. Some of the stories date back, at least in early incarnations, to pieces that I wrote while an MFA student at San Diego State between 2008-2011. Others were written in just the past six months to a year. The title might suggest dark undertones about the content, and it's true that in this collection I address not only my own mortality but that of my parents, and in many of the stories the issue of loss pervades.
But "Raining in Paradise" is also a collective treatise on survival and perseverance, and more so on cherishing the life we have and its every precious moment. I hope you will read these stories and make discoveries of your own. One last note: the author of "Raining in Paradise" is Barrett McCloud, which happens to be my pen name. This is the first time I've used it in the public domain.
On Saturday, March 3 from 1 to 2 p.m. I'll be hosting a book chat and reading of my 2017 novel "There and Back Again." I'm the San Diego Public Library's Local Author of the Month, an honor for which I am very grateful and about which I am immensely excited. If you haven't been to the Central Library downtown yet, this is your opportunity to experience it in all its grandeur and beauty. The book event will be held in a room on the first floor, just to the west of the lobby entrance -- you can't miss it. But by all means stay afterward to visit and to tour the library. I'll see you there!
First of all, profound thanks to all who came out to Liberty Station Nov. 11 for the "Wine and Sign" for "There and Back Again." I really appreciate it. If I may ask another favor, not only of you good people but of everyone who's purchased and read the book, please post your comments/reviews on the amazon.com purchase-site for "There and Back Again." I look forward to your feedback!
In the meantime, I am hard at work -- well, at least as hard as I can be given the responsibilities (most of them related to grading) of the remaining semesters at SDSU and Mesa College -- on my next novel, for now titled "In Violet." Briefly, it follows the plight of a would-be Hollywood screenwriter whose obsessive project is a Marion Crane-oriented "prequel" to "Psycho."
But before that book is complete, I hope to publish under my little-used literary pseudonym Barrett McCloud a short-story anthology titled "Raining in Paradise."
Thank you for your interest and your support, friends!
My novel "There and Back Again," about a journalist who is brutalized and traumatized while on foreign assignment and then exiles herself in search of physical and spiritual reclamation, is now available via both its publisher, Lulu.com, and amazon.com. E-version of the book should be available, too, in a week or so.
One of the things that makes this book personally exciting is that it also pays homage to journalism the way it once was. The story is set in 1998, a time when newspapers were still relevant, the internet had not completely taken over the media landscape, the so-called reporter's instinct was invaluable, and social media did not yet exist. My two principal characters -- the aforementioned reporter who vanishes, and the old pro journalist who sets out in search of her -- are inspired by the kinds of reporters -- and people -- who I either learned from in my salad days in the business or I admired from afar, for their commitment, their passion, their guts.
I hope you'll read "There and Back Again," whether you have journalism in your soul or not.
The Without Walls Festival is one of San Diego theater's premier recurring events. Photo by Daniel Norwood.
This should be ultra-cool: La Jolla Playhouse has announced that its third Without Walls Festival (aka the WoW Festival), due this October, will be mounted not on its UCSD Theatre District grounds but around downtown San Diego. For those who already dig the WoW Festival – count me most enthusiastically among them – this only makes the return of this site-specific-theater adventure more exciting. Nothing wrong with the festivals staged, for the most part, at UCSD, but downtown would seem to offer greater and even more experimental site choices. All credit to the Playhouse for not standing pat. If downtown is a hit, and I’d be surprised if it isn’t, it might become a tradition, or, and this is equally fun to contemplate, it might betoken WoW Festivals in other parts of the city as well. Further details to come as we get closer to fall.
Jennifer Eve Thorn is Moxie Theatre's new artistic director.
Its 13th season of existence is bringing change at the top at always-adventurous Moxie Theatre. One of Moxie's original co-founders (along with Delicia Turner Sonnenberg, Jo Anne Glover and Liv Kellgren), Jennifer Eve Thorn has been named the theater company's new artistic director and will assume her responsibilities in July. She succeeds founding artistic director Turner Sonnenberg, who along with Glover, the company says, will take roles on the Moxie Advisory Board. Both will be involved, either directing or performing, during Moxie's 13th season. From the very beginning, Moxie has been producing some of the most thoughtful and provocative theater in San Diego, of which Thorn has been an integral part both on stage and as a director. I expect she will continue with distinction the high degree of excellence built by Turner Sonnenberg. Good luck, Jen!
Ian Merrill Peakes in "Timon of Athens" at Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C. Photo by Teresa Wood.
Timing is everything. I was fortunate enough to be in Washington, D.C. last week just in time to catch one of the closing performances of Shakespeare’s rarely produced “Timon of Athens” at the Folger Theatre, which regularly does some of the best realizations of The Bard’s work in the country. This “Timon,” directed by Robert Richmond, took a daring, techy approach to the play about an Athenian’s misguided generosity and the wrenching consequences that follow. In the title role, Ian Merrill Peakes is insouciant, desperate, manic and haunted in all the appropriate moments, and his steady Act 2 disintegration makes a potent point about the thin line between money and madness. Next up at the Folger: Richmond directs “Antony and Cleopatra,” Oct 10-Nov. 19. If you’re in D.C. this fall, check it out.