Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Things I Have Learned In The Past Week

It takes more than nine days to move out of a place where one has lived for nine years. Although the bulk of our possessions are now in the new house, we still have stuff in the condo which we have to get out before we can paint it, fix it up, make it pretty for potential buyers (hey, wanna buy a condo?) I am living in fear that we will never get the last few things out.

It takes three times as long to pack up one's things and move them out of a three story walkup than it does to actually move them into a house and unpack them. Provided you know where you want things to go. If you are at all confused about this (or fear you lack the closet space for all the black dresses you never wear) you may end up with lots of unpacked boxes.

Oddly enough, square footage means nothing. One can double the square footage of one's living space and still fill a place up with all one's stuff. It is nice that we don't have to much new furniture, but disturbing because I never thought our place was so crowded, but obviously, it must have been. Of course, I didn't have boxes of clothes sitting in the living room and I actually had books on the bookshelves, so perhaps things won't look so crowded a week from now. Perhaps.

If someone offers help, take it. I am the sort who feels awkward about accepting any sort of help, but moving has pretty much smacked me upside the head with all that I am unable to do on my own. My mother has been doing lots and lots of babysitting. Our friend, David, helped out on Sunday by offering boxes, an extra car, and an extra set of arms--we moved a lot of stuff out of the old place and we couldn't have done it without him. THANK YOU DAVID! (And thanks to Kristen for letting us borrow her husband for the afternoon.)

This is the house we will die in. I am leaving Julian with the task of moving my stuff out of this place sixty years from now. I can't do this ever again. I realize that all my talk about moving to London, Paris, New York, Mars is just that, talk. I am never leaving Chicago because just moving two miles pretty much kicked my butt. Attempting to relocate to another city would probably kill me.

I have some pretty impressive allergies and will have to get tests to find out precisely what is causing my mucus membranes to itch this much. I am thinking dust mites. I will have to adopt new house cleaning habits (i.e. I will actually have to clean house) in this new place. We bought a Swiffer, but I am suspecting this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Thank you for all your kind words of support.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thank You For The Moon, Thank You For The Stars

Tonight is the last night we will sleep in this place. The movers will come tomorrow to take the furniture to the new house.

One of the many irrational feelings I have had, with regards to moving, is the sense that I will become disconnected from my memories. This is where Jenny and I did the bulk of the creating and rehearsing of Submission and this is the place Fred and I came home to after we became engaged, married, parents. In leaving, I lose the physical, tangible connection to my past, am left to rely on the unreliable brain cells and synaptic relays. What will remain after we move? how can I leave this place?

It is overcast and gray today. I can only see my neighbors' rooftops from my window. The skyscrapers are hidden from view, but I believe they are there, behind the clouds. Another completely irrational thought I have with regards to moving is that I stand like a guard and keep watch over the city. I watched the world end (or so I thought) in this house and I remember looking out our window, thinking the buildings of downtown Chicago would be the next to fall. I know, intellectually, that I couldn't stop something from happening, that all I could do if disaster did strike would be to watch, but on a deeper level I feel my presence has had an effect. The act of watching changes the result. Over the past five years, I have watched the skyline. So who will protect it when I go?

I love the house into which we are moving, but I can't help but mourn all that I feel I will lose when we leave this house I have also loved.

I will miss the buildings. I will miss the sunrise. I will miss the sky.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Whose Land Is It Anyway?

When we first found out I was pregnant, my dad's business partner and his wife, John and Dorothea, gave us This Land Is Your Land, an illustrated version of Woody Guthrie's classic song. We have been reading it to Julian and I always get a little choked up. The song has always done that to me, even as a child, probably because I grew up watching so many members of my mom's family trying to come to the United States because they believed in the American Dream, so the words "This land was made for you and me" ring true in my heart. However, there are other reasons the book gets me worked up.

The book illustrates the words, so when we first arrive at the chorus, the picture of California is of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge and the picture of the New York Island is Manhattan with the two towers of the World Trade Center in the skyline. The first time we opened the book and saw the picture, both Fred and I were stunned, rendered almost speechless by the image. It is so hard to see those buildings, knowing what we know, remembering what happened that day five years ago. And then, it is hard to sing the song when we think about what has happened over the last five years since that day, because of that day. It feels like we have been moved farther away from the vision of inclusion, that our circumstances more closely resemble the sentiments of exclusion expressed in the snarky school yard parody which I recall from childhood, "This Land is MY LAND, it is not YOUR LAND, so go on leave here, you cannot live here" (As it turns out, someone has written a parody for our President to sing which echoes the childish variation). We now are a nation which refuses to recognize the rights of our own citizens because of their religious beliefs. All in the name of keeping us safe.

There have been a lot of tragedies over the years. I worry that, years from now when we look back, the real tragedy of September 11, 2001 will not have been that planes were hijacked , buildings were toppled, and thousands of people died. I worry that the real tragedy which we will all recognize is the one which our government continues to perpetuate. We responded exactly the way the terrorists had hoped we would, by violating human rights and by ignoring the values upon which our nation was founded. All in the name of keeping us safe.

As hopeful as Woody Guthrie's song is, we should never forget that it is a protest song. That is still a right I have as a citizen, the right to respectfully protest, to say that what I see happening is wrong, to question whether this land still belongs to all of us, and to say that I will not accept my grief to be manipulated and used to commit acts which violate human and civil rights. That is, unless the government decides that blogging my displeasure will somehow make us all less safe.
In the squares of the city
In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office
I see my people
And some are grumblin'
And some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Nobody living can ever stop me
As I go walking
That freedom highway
Nobody living can make me turn back
This land was made for you and me

This land is your land,
This land is my land,
From California
To the New York Island,
From the redwood forest,
To the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me

Monday, September 11, 2006

Some Thoughts on Tuesday Morning by The Pogues

Too many sad days
Too many Tuesday mornings
I thought of you today
I wished it was yesterday morning
I thought of you today
And I dreamt you were dressed in mourning

But I knew that you
With your heart beating
And your eyes shining
Would be dreaming of me
Lying with you
On a Tuesday morning

I fell through the window
And I found that I was still breathing
I thought of tomorrow
And the fear that you might leave me
I thought of tomorrow
And I wished it was Monday evening

But I knew that you
With your heart beating
And your eyes shining
Would be dreaming of me
Lying with you
On a Tuesday morning

Turn your face from me
I will cover myself with sorrow
Bring Hell down upon me
I will surrender my heart to sorrow
Bring Hell down upon me
And I will say goodbye tomorrow

But I know that you
With your heart beating
And your eyes shining
Would be dreaming of me
Lying with you
On a Tuesday morning
In truth, I don't think I knew what the song was about, or understood what it meant. Not when I first heard it in 1993 (or perhaps earlier-sometime in those late-college/early-adult years). Not back when The Pogues released it and we all looked puzzled and said, "this is The Pogues?" because it sounded so gentle, it sounded so nice. We were all so young then, love was still new and the only way a person died was by their own hand. The song made no sense to us then. Maybe it wasn't meant to. Maybe the song fell through some time wormhole and all the confusion stemmed from the simple fact that the event it described hadn't happened yet.

I remember a warm, late summer evening. It was the Sunday before it happened. I had just finished rereading Stranger in a Strange Land and was thinking about Heinlein's ideas of water brotherhood, which I would translate for our Earth sensibilities as "you love the people the people you love love." I remember asking Fred to read the lyrics to the song off the computer screen and tell me what he thought it meant.

"I think he, the guy in the song, almost dies, but remembers there is this girl he loves and stays alive for her."

"But," I asked, "what about the "dressed in mourning" line?"

"Well, maybe he does die, and this song is his way of telling her he loves her and she should go on with her life."

I don't remember if I concurred. I remember, later, when we were lying in bed, looking through the Williams Sonoma catalog and pointing out the thousand-dollar Capresso coffee maker. I remember mentioning how Jenny's friends, R and B, had one and how Jenny kept offering to make me a cup of coffee the afternoon we were at their apartment (Jenny had to feed their cat) because she wanted to show it off (the coffeemaker, not the cat who was perfectly capable of showing her own self off). I don't remember if I told Fred I saw their wedding pictures from the previous spring or that their cat had ringworm. I don't remember if I mentioned how gigantic and amazing their apartment was (by all standards, but especially for Manhattan) and how when I asked Jenny what B did for a living (because I knew R was a writer) she just waived her hand in the air and said, "Finance." Which explained everything, in a way.

Fred left that Monday morning for some week long training session in Vegas. I was restless that whole day, feeling empty and pointless. I did manage to get the passport information in the mail, but otherwise accomplished nothing. My mom had come over to borrow the computer (she needed a non-Macintosh computer for something or other) and we talked a bit about the news on NPR that a rebel leader in Afghanistan had been killed. I listened to a show on unemployment and was resolved to spend my non-working days doing productive things, kicking my own butt into writing more. Tomorrow, I decided, I would take advantage of the free day at the Art Institute. I called Jenny that night, woke her up, and she said, "I have jury duty tomorrow. I'll call you when I have a break."

I overslept that Tuesday morning. I heard the news and thought that someone in air traffic control had made a colossal error. As I made my morning latte, the bizarre chaos on NPR (they kept breaking into a piece on European film to give an updatee and then replaying the exact same piece on European film, only to break in once more) led me to try and call Fred. The hotel switchboard kept misdirecting me. Finally he called me and we tried to piece together what we were hearing. I turned on the TV set, but didn't really pay attention because they weren't actually reporting any information, just broadcasting images of damaged buildings with smoke billowing from the point of impact. I told Fred I planned to go to the museum and he said, "That sounds like a good idea." Later I would tease him for this, for our mutually naive belief that the museum would still be open, that the day would be like any other day, that the world was still the same. I said good-bye and told Fred I loved him. Then I actually looked at the images and the phone began to ring.

I only drank coffee that day. I kept switching between TV stations, or watching the images with the sound off and NPR on. I remember how we all thought that once the fires died down, rescue teams would be able to send helicopters to pick up people stranded on the roof. I remember the closeups of people on the window ledge and thinking how high up they were and how terrifying it must have been for them. Then the image on the television screen turned to dust. At first, no one could say what had happened. But then we knew and we all spent the next half hour waiting, reasoning that if one fell it was only a matter of time before the other came down as well. When it finally did happen, I sat on our sofa, crying, "All those people." People called to make sure that all my loved ones were safe, but since the phone lines to New York were jammed, all I could say is that I didn't know. We kept hearing fighter jets flying overhead (we knew they had to be military planes, commercial traffic having been grounded). There were so many confused reports, of the mayor of Cleveland reporting a hijacked plane requesting to land, of airlines not being able to locate their planes, and, finally, of a plane crashing in a field in Pennsylvania. It felt like the apocalypse had begun and was heading west with the Sun. The sky was so blue and cloudless, here as well as there, so the distance of a thousand miles seemed illusory. My view of the Sears Tower, Aon Tower, and John Hancock Building looks every bit as distant and as immediate as the images of the New York skyline on television. I looked out at our own scrapers of sky and thought "You're next."

A persistent busy signal kept answering my attempts to locate Jenny. I knew where she worked, but I knew she wasn't at work, and I had no idea where jury duty would have sent her. Maria came over and suggested I locate Jenny's mother, which I did, and she said the words I need to hear: "She's okay." Jenny later told me she was only a block away when the first plane struck.

After dark descended, I got through to Jenny's apartment and her roommate told me about B. He worked on one of the top floors and had an early morning meeting. R must have known the moment she saw that gash in concrete and steel and glass.

I spent the week sitting on the sofa, holding vigil, somehow believing that if I watched every story of someone looking for their loved one who was missing, they would be safe and sound. Sleep seemed impossible. As did the future. I remember looking at books and magazines published before and thinking that they had been rendered useless, that nothing would ever be the same, that our lives would never move past that point. Fred didn't come home until Friday, his being the first flight cleared to take off from the Las Vegas airport.

I feel like I dodged a bullet that day, that the husband who died could so easily have been mine. It isn't a "better her than me" feeling of relief. More the sense that it came so close, the circle drew so tight, it really could have been me, why wasn't it me? I can't help but feel awkward when I see R, I can't help but feel uncomfortable for the extra years of life with my husband that I got, and I feel ashamed for my relief that I did not lose my husband that day. I hardly know her, but I know so much about her. I imagine she doesn't like me all that much, yet I am connected to her through Jenny, because we both love Jenny, so in a way, we both love each other.

It feels like it happened just yesterday, but then, it feels like a lifetime ago. Has it really only been five years? Half a decade went by so fast. The world should have changed more than it has. I keep wishing things could be the way they were before.