Three

Self picking her favorite reads so far, 2019. All three happen to be novels. They’re arranged according to the month she read them.

  • November Road, by Louis Berney – read February

The Setting: America post-John F. Kennedy Assassination

  • Record of a Spaceborn Few, by Becky Chambers – read March

Science Fiction

The Setting: Earth and Outer Space (The Future, of course)

  • Asymmetry, by Lisa Halliday – read April

The Setting: America post 9/11 to the time of the First Gulf War

Bloomsbury Square, The Lamb, The First Gulf War

Asymmetry, p. 196:

One afternoon we were sitting in Bloomsbury Square, keeping half an eye on our charges, when Lachlan pointed toward the iron railings on the far side of the park and said that the original ones had been dismantled and melted down for ammunition during the Second World War. These new ones were shorter, and unlocked all day; square’s been open to the public ever since. I could not pass Bloomsbury Square after that without wondering where the old iron had ended up. On which fronts. In whose bodies. It was around this time that the avowal to do away with Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction was accelerating toward its first anti-climax. Blair had declared it time to repay America for its help sixty years earlier and pledged Britain’s commitment to sniffing out all remaining stockpiles of genocidal intent. Forty-eight hours later, Clinton announced that Iraq intended to cooperate; a month after that, UNSCOM reported that in fact Iraq was not cooperating, and lo, the British-American bombing began. I watched the Desert Fox airstrikes with Alastair, sitting in our usual spot in The Lamb, whose ceiling had been strung with Christmas bunting and the bar transformed into a lukewarm buffet of mince pies and a faux cauldron of brandy-spiked mulled wine.

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Asymmetry, p. 152

Currently reading Novella # 2 of this consistently surprising book.

Even though — what the hell — self has an inkling that the characters in the middle novella (Hussain, Zaid, etc) will turn out connected to Alice and Ezra and the Twin Towers — she’s still curious about how that will play out on the page. If Novella # 2 ends with a big AHA moment, she’ll take her hat off to Lisa Halliday.

Narrative shifts to first person.

  • I once heard a filmmaker say that in order to be truly creative a person must be in possession of four things: irony, melancholy, a sense of competition, and boredom. Whatever my deficiencies in the first three areas, I enjoyed such an abundance of the fourth that winter in Iraq that by the time we returned to New York I had eked out my first and only poetry cycle.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Wavering (a 9/11 Story About Surviving and Feeling Lost)

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Image from BBC ONE : EARTH

The nights seemed to go on forever. The swell of my stomach seemed to grow larger beneath my hot fingers. I thought of our baby’s eyes, open in the dark. I dreamt of pyramids, desert storms, bridges over raging torrents, stars dropping into firmaments, the earth tilting, the baby elephant separated from the herd and wandering alone in a trackless desert.

You used to pride yourself on your constancy.

I lay next to you, listening to the hum of crickets and the sighing of the wind weaving through the walnut tree. Just before dawn, when the night became enormous and silent, I would fall into an exhausted sleep.

You, alerted by the stillness, would stir and mumble, What, what, what.

Nothing, I’d say. I’d wait until your breath slowed once again.

Six months and 9 days ago, I heard the roar of sirens. The day had hardly begun. We’d heard sirens before: the city was just across the sound, the twin buildings edging that narrow tongue of water. The sirens’ wail always seemed more acute as summer wore on. I would imagine hydrants spraying water into the blistering heat, pavements curling and buckling, scarcely able to bear the weight of millions of feet.

I thought: this is how it will always be. 4 a.m., your breath in my ear.

After that day I seemed capable of going without sleep, weeks at a time. The sky was murky; with each breath I inhaled dust from the towers. Her dust, I thought. In me. Her dust.

Papers still occasionally made it across the sound. A page from a desk calendar, once. “Mailed to Ron,” one said, dated August 16, 2011.

The sheets smelled dank. Heat seemed to cement our skin to bed. The garden smells were rank. My belly hurt, but just on one side. Child that was growing there, head curled under an arm. Child with eyes wide open in the dark, wondering what world is this?

I tried to push my thoughts one way. You know you don’t want it, you said one night, tears in your voice. This kind of world, you know you don’t want it.

I thought of the strawberries in the garden, the beagle’s toenails scrabbling against the hardwood floor, your skin.

You were the only one who was late to work that day. Ed, Simon, Niles, Will, David, Harriet, Holly, Sam, Steve, Lexy—even the young receptionist who two days before had announced she was pregnant with her first child—all were at their desks at 9 a.m. sharp.

She must have taken extra time with her make-up, because you had the reservation at the hotel for afterwards. You were always late. How many times did she look impatiently at her watch?

We’d had another argument. You grabbed your briefcase and almost ran to the car. I saved your life. Me and my big mouth. Me and my quarrelsome ways. You can’t bear to admit it, but it is so.

I knew when your thoughts started changing, I knew exactly when. July you became something dark and deep. My suspicions grew, fed by the silence of the hot nights.

In the train, on the way to work, you stayed angry with me. You thought: Why this? Why now? You checked messages on your phone. There were two from me, five from her. Where are you, she typed.

She was already at her desk. Afterwards, I could imagine your anguish, standing at the foot of Tower One. You imagined her, up there. Perhaps she looked down at you, like Rapunzel. Oh if only she could lower her hair! The sky that moments before had been cirrus blue was suddenly clouded, and each breath was like a stab.

You tell yourself she would never have jumped. But she took Steve’s hand and together they flew out the window. Steve was the Deputy Head of Investment Banking. He would have comforted her. He would have told her, You can do it. He must have been the one who took her hand.

You found out over six months later. There was only a shred of one of her fingers. A fireman had picked it up. After a year, there was something else. A ring. Plain gold. Of course, they gave it to Michael.

Did Michael know? I keep asking myself. Did he know?

Then, not even 10 years later, that fireman who rescued you, who gave you closure, was dead, too. Lung cancer. So many rescuers developed that, after.

Who knew wavering would be such a virtue?

You never forgave.

There are times you still say, “I want to die.”

There are those who say you will come back to me. There are those who tell me I must stay strong.

Ten years later, who would have thought? Together, we share bitterness.

————————————————————————————————————–

Still More Waiting

Share a snapshot that shows a sense of waiting.

— Cheri Lucas Rowlands, The Daily Post

First, self’s Philippine passport. She is a dual citizen of the Philippines and the United States. This passport dates from the time when she first entered the U.S., to begin grad studies at Stanford:

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Final picture: Last week, self was in New York for her nephew’s wedding. On September 11, she decided to go to the Whitney on Gansevoort Street, her favorite Manhattan museum. She started at the top floor (the Calders) and worked her way down.

On the top floor, there’s a restaurant with stunning views. She saw the Statue of Liberty:

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Sept. 11, 2017: “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses . . . “

Immigrants. Self was an immigrant once.

Stay tuned.

 

9/11: Chelsea District, New York City

This city holds a special place in self’s memories:

  • Dearest Mum began her piano career here, at Carnegie Hall.
  • Self worked here for a year, before entering the Stanford Creative Writing Program.
  • Her sister was married here, 1982.
  • Her sister gave birth to three children here, one of whom was married here, two days ago.
  • Her sister died here, December 19, 1991.

Because self is at the moment staying in Chelsea, here’s a view of this amazing city, on 9/11:

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New York City: 9/11/2017

Here are pictures of the children who were, respectively, six, five and six months old when self’s sister passed away:

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William and Christopher Blackett, 9 September 2017

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Georgina Isabella: 9 September 2017

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

#amwriting: “I Eat Bitterness”

Self is writing a 9/11 story called “I Eat Bitterness.”

About a businessman who commutes into Manhattan from his home in Connecticut. On the day of the attack, he’s late for work because he had a fight with his wife. His thoughts on the train are broody and dark. He arrives at the World Trade Center at half past 9 in the morning.

As self explores this story, she occasionally turns to her reading of back issues of The New Yorker and The Economist.

In the 29 October 2016 issue of The Economist, this:

Who will uphold the torch of openness in the West? . . . Hillary Clinton, the probable winner on November 8th, would be much better on immigration, but she has renounced her former support for ambitious trade deals.

Heart breaks.

Stay tuned.

That Point In the Story When —

No one is coming to help us, all right?”

That line was uttered by a passenger on UA 93. You know, the flight that went down in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The passengers already knew that the plane had been hijacked and everyone had rushed screaming to the back of the plane and were all huddled there, gripping their cell phones and passing on hope.

And then one man said, very simply and quietly, and self can’t remember what his name was or where she read about him (it was probably The New Yorker, because she’s been subscribing to that magazine for almost her whole life): “No one is coming to help us, all right? We’re going to have to help ourselves.” And that’s when the passengers drew up a plan to fight back.

Self thinks this is so beautiful because, to tell the truth, she is very prone to what is referred to nowadays as ‘Magical Thinking’

  • My Masters from _______ will save me.
  • My 300-point Egyptian cotton sheets will save me.
  • My sarcasm and unflappable good nature will save me.

And then nobody saves you.

She’s still reading Ghost Soldiers, about the American POW camp in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. For the first time in three years, American fighter jets are spotted in the sky. They seem to be making a point to fly directly over the POW camp, as if taunting the Japanese guards. Or maybe warning them: you’re going to lose, so you’d better start treating the POWs well.

And that’s when the Japanese decide to siphon off 1,600 of the strongest and healthiest POWs and pack them into ships bound for Japan. And of course, no one wants to be among the number going to Japan, because they might very well die en route. And it seems so tragically pointless to die just when the Philippines is on the point of being liberated.

Author Hampton Sides shows all the fakery that individual POWs resort to keep from being on the list of prisoners being transported to Japan. Then he follows what happens on board this one ship (which makes self feel a little hopeful, since obviously there had to be survivors of this ordeal; otherwise, how could the author know how it all went down?)

Anyhoo, the POWs are crammed into the hold of this one ship, and they start to panic when the doors to the hold are shut. There’s pandemonium and yelling and suffering. Then one man (Sides gives us his name: Frank Bridget) climbs up on a stairway and shouts: GENTLEMEN! (Because this is the 1940s? And nowadays it would be something more like: LISTEN UP, DUDES!): “If we panic, we’re only going to use up more oxygen.”

Who was this guy? Where’d he come from? Like the man on UA 93, though, he was the right man at the right time. Who knows why?

This man rapped on the hatch and told the Japanese officers: “I am coming up to speak to you. And you are going to keep this hatch open.”

And they listened to him! Holy cow! If you insist on behaving like a human being, perhaps others will start remembering that they, too, are human beings? And then all the madness will stop?

The name of the ship the POWs were on was the Oryoku Maru.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

As You Were

Classes were not cancelled. Self had to teach in the city; traffic was the usual.

Son went to school. He asked for a bathroom pass. He walked down a long, eerily silent corridor of classrooms. Through the open doors, he could hear the drifting sounds of CNN from the classroom TVs.

Her brother-in-law walked from his office in Wall Street, along with thousands. Somewhere midtown, he miraculously caught a cab which took him the rest of the way home.

There’s an article in The Conversation about a doctor attending a medical research meeting in the Brooklyn Marriott that morning. While people streamed out of Manhattan, he and a colleague walked towards Lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge; most of the people were heading the other way.

Last year, self was in New York City on 9/11. It was a very anti-climactic experience. Life went on as usual. Crowds drifted on and off the subways. The Grand Central food court was bustling with people. Not one of the crowds milling about mentioned 9/11.

That night, she took a train to Connecticut. It was late; the cars were full of young people. Laughing, talking. Nothing was different from the day before. Nothing marked the day as “different.” There were the usual intoxicated youths, no more, no less. There were no visible signs of increased security, not even in Grand Central.

Self would like the world to know: this nonchalance, it’s so “New York.” And maybe that was the point. We don’t let it change our daily lives, we don’t stop taking planes or trains. We don’t stop trusting people. We don’t stop trusting in the kindness of strangers. We just go on as usual.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

9/11: Self Wants to Remember

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New York Times Book Review: 9/11 Issue

New York Lives:

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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