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May 18, 2006

Not Sure Why

2006-05-19 01.jpg

A big part of my job consists of reading people's memories. Sometimes, in the more corporate of circumstances, I edit syntax and shape them. This always leaves me with an odd feeling�if I am modifying the order of words or changing tenses to make everything agree, am I in effect adjusting someone�s personal history? I think about this a lot.

Yesterday I watched the trailer for Oliver Stone's new movie, "September 11" (I will not link to it here�you can get it on YouTube or a variety of other places if you wish.).

Despite my distaste for any movie or television show that is a dramatization of the day, I watched it. When it comes to September 11, I am like a deer in headlights. I cannot stop watching and I cannot move. This happened with the National Geographic special, as well, and as much as I swore that I would never see it, the documentary came on one night, catching me by surprise, and I was glued to my seat in a ball for several hours, never moving a muscle.

Part of me feels as though this new movie is too early. The other half of me sees nearly five years as an acceptable amount of time to begin to heal. However, when I really think about my apprehension over the film, it seems to come down to one thing: fear. I am not afraid of seeing planes crash or buildings collapse. I am not afraid of watching footage or bad acting or sappy lines. What frightens me the most is that I will not remember everything that I did a year, two years, four years ago. I worry that, in the process of recalling, my thoughts will be reordered, that I will continue to confuse what I saw in real life with what I saw on television. I am scared that, in time, this film will become part of my memory and, in thirty years, I might not be able to extract fact from dramatization.

Am I alone in this?

When I began this new (well, almost year-old) job, my office was at the end of a complex 9/11 project. In my first few weeks, I read and listened to a large amount of personal testimony. I realized that I had never written my own experience down and, one evening, opened up a new word document and plugged away. As I wrote, I constantly questioned the integrity of my narrative. When I stood back and read it over, I found entire passages that were out of order or seemed to lack any identifiable time. Finally, after about a week or trying, I put the document aside. Though I still have a copy of it on my computer, I find it hard to return.

My memory of September 11 is made up of so many pieces. Bits are from raw experience, some are from friends, others are from the media. As time marches on, it is harder and harder to pull them apart into categories. I am not sure why this scares me so much, but it does.

Posted by callalillie at May 18, 2006 7:28 AM | Introspect , September 11th


I think what you describe is memory. Reality is quite subjective. Mine differs from yours. Although we may have been in the same place, same time same events we process the information based on our own past experiences and brain chemistry.
Will all this additional 9-11 input taint our pure recollection? I'm sure it will, but aside from documenting events as they occur, what can we do? It is unsettling to realize our memories may not be documentary in fact, but laced with the narrative of life we continue to live.

Posted by: Vickie at May 18, 2006 8:24 AM

I too find it difficult to talk about that day. I am now in the process of interviewing for a new job and that gap of employment from 2001-2004 is something that I struggle with. In the context of a job interview everything must be presented in a logical way but in reality the mind does not work that way

Posted by: Parma30 at May 18, 2006 8:29 AM

I tend to live in the past a lot...and I think that memories change and age as you do. When I was studying history and preservation in my 20's I thought that history was written in stone. As I age, I see how history changes as people change. We re-evaluate historical people and periods as our world changes...look at how people looked at Thomas Jefferson and George Washington in the 20's and 30's and how we see them now. Tramatic events also change in our minds...part of that is our brain trying to save us from reliving that trama again and again. I have not watched any 9/11 documentaries or movies...not to save my memories...but really to save myself from that trama. For me...five years just isn't enough time yet. I'm not sure I'll ever reach a point when I can pull those memories raw up again.

Posted by: Sue at May 18, 2006 9:58 AM

I have different sets of memories, I think. I have the ones that come from the emails and posts I made on line that morning, and the notes in my journal -- those are specific, and when I reread them, I am, I think, there in ways that I don't often want to return to (the not knowing, the being too far away from Soren, with no clear idea when I might get back home to him). I have a set of "story" memories: the way I've told it to people, which have moments of horror, moments of humor, but are a narrative; and then I have another story overlaying these, which seems to have a lot of snippets of other people's stories (friends, family, bloggers, online communities) and some bits of the media.

And all of them are real, and none of them are completely real/objectively true.

Posted by: Velma at May 18, 2006 10:28 AM

wow, you should really read Spilling Clarence. It is all about a town where people remember everything (for reasons I won't get into here) but part of it discusses the idea of integrating other peoples memories in their own. right along these lines - check it out.

Posted by: dahl at May 18, 2006 2:33 PM

Guess what, we actually have "Spilling Clarence" at home. It was my friend Anne's first book.

Posted by: Alexis at May 18, 2006 2:40 PM

I'm piping into this kind of late. But I have to say that I was appalled by the idea of this movie. It's weird how I felt like it was way too soon when it was in fact 5 years ago. I don't think it's about being too soon. I think that knowing how real this was makes me never want to witness those kinds of details. I want no entertainment or even intellectual stimulation by witnessing a truth so frightening. Perhaps to people who did not experience things so intimately, this is a way of understanding, and I respect that, particularly if the film was done well. But, I'm not sure personally, if any amount of time passing will ever make me want to watch it. I hope I feel the same way when I'm old. Life is too good to spend time reliving painful experiences (unless it's some how theraputic).

Posted by: kar at May 18, 2006 3:23 PM

i'm still in such denial about 9/11 that i watched the trailer without incident. all of the shows about it easily. don't know why; i completely shut down that day. was far more than i could handle so i just didn't. felt nothing. as though it were an absolutely ordinary day--i spent ages looking for a krispy kreme, then saw jet-fighters in the air and pointed in an "ooh! fighters!" sort of way.

still wondering when/if it's going to hit that i was here in this city that day.

Posted by: grumpygirl at May 18, 2006 8:54 PM

I have to agree that I am also appalled by this movie..I watched the trailer for the first time yesterday. The idea that folks out in the midwest are going to be munching on popcorn whilst watching makes me sick. I call BS on this film (or United 93) being theraputic in anyway.. the same way watching a terrible car accident on tape over and over would be theraputic for the victim? at the least tell me that you are donating ALL proceeds to ... It is completely offensive, especially to NYC. /knows I am definately suffering from some PTSD.. I am not healed 5 years later.. I am not over it

Posted by: Ellsie at May 19, 2006 11:23 AM

I wonder how much time needs to pass before such a movie will feel okay.

Posted by: corie at May 19, 2006 11:29 AM

my husband went to high school with anne! too funny.

Posted by: dahl at May 21, 2006 10:46 PM

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