Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Obligatory "Tenth Anniversary of 9/11" Post, or How I Learned to Overcome My Trauma and Get On With My Life

I'll spare you most of the details of my "I remember where I was when it happened" story, and instead tell you how I transformed my trauma and pain into a virtual-reality art installation that eventually healed me.

It was 2006, and I was just starting to get the hang of creating things in Second Life.  I was offered a spot to build in the then-annual Burning Life festival (their virtual version of Burning Man).  My installation was based on my emotional reaction to the events of September 11, 2001.  I titled it Paranoia / Watching the Sky for Planes.

'Paranoia / Watching the Sky For Planes' - 7

I was at work when it happened, so one of the main focal points of the site was a recreation of where I was exactly when I first heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  (For those of you who don't know me, I work at a bookstore.)

'Paranoia / Watching the Sky For Planes' - 4

'Paranoia / Watching the Sky For Planes' - 6

From the information card I had written for visitors to my installation:

Although it may not seem that way at first, this installation is highly personal and is not primarily a political piece. In other words, political issues were not my main reason for building it. Rather, this installation represents the emotional chaos I personally experienced on and after September 11, 2001.  
To put it bluntly, it fucked me up pretty badly, although I was very lucky to not have been directly affected by it. I had been at work (at a bookstore) when one of my co-workers told me the news.  For a long time after that day, I was terrified every time I heard or saw a plane fly overhead. I lived near an airport at the time, and what had once been an everyday sound now sent me into a panic.  
I am a highly empathic person, and being acutely aware of the emotional state of literally everyone around me, I often became completely overwhelmed in the months following. I was like many who couldn't turn off the television or stop watching. Since then, I've pretty much stopped paying attention to the news altogether.

'Paranoia / Watching the Sky For Planes' - 8

In 2008, I built a smaller revision of the installation at ArthOle (a collaborative Second Life gallery that I shared with Steve Millar (aka Arahan Claveau).

Paranoia/Watching The Sky For Planes - remembering September 11th (part 1)

Paranoia/Watching The Sky For Planes - remembering September 11th (part 3)

Paranoia/Watching The Sky For Planes - remembering September 11th (part 2)

'Paranoia/Watching The Sky For Planes' closing this weekend

Building the installation helped to purge me of any remaining trauma I had in the wake of 9/11.  Now that a decade has passed, I just want to, finally, be over it for good.  It happened, it was awful, it was sad, it was a tragedy.  It's over now.  I want September 11th to be just another ordinary day again.  I don't WANT to keep unearthing the trauma and wallowing in it for fucking ever.  I don't know why the fuck the majority of Americans do.  Getting on with life is not a disservice to the dead.

A wise friend of mine, Bau, recently posted a spot-on update to Facebook, and with hir permission, I am sharing it here:
Not memorializing 9/11. Not turning on the radio or TV until tomorrow. 
The more we memorialize the date with emotional displays and rhetoric, the more we show how much it harmed us psychologically and how much we have been driven by it ever since. And that's the wrong thing to do. 
 Anybody that ever got beat up by sadistic bullies as a kid would know this. You don't let them see you cry any more than strictly necessary. You don't, the next year, announce that, because of them, you pay a taxi instead of walking home, and you don't, five years later, notify them that you still have nightmares about what they did. You certainly don't, after ten years, contrive little public ceremonies where you display your scars and remind your tormentors of how effective they were. 
 I grieved the rescue workers who got killed trying to help, the police and EMTs and firefighters, because even though I did not know them, they are "mine" in the sense that they are "ours" -- they were the kind of people that try to help everybody, and everybody therefore has a connection to them. And I recognize the grief of the people who lost loved ones. 
 But that is individual feeling and individual harm. As a *nation* (and the *nation* was, after all, the target!!) with as big a population as we have, the *number* of people that died was insignificant. The harm to our infrastructure was negligible. Prolonging and exaggerating the emotional elevation of that harm is irrational and counterproductive. 
 The orchestrated conflation of mourning and patriotism surrounding 9/11 has accomplished no good in the past ten years that I have seen. 
 It has, however, served to fuel hatred against Muslims and fearful compliance with useless, expensive security measures, and slavish concession to the Patriot Acts which did violence to our Constitution. That was, indeed, a harm to our nation, and we did it to ourselves. 
 In my opinion we as a nation should have acted as if we hardly noticed the damages of 9/11 and we should have hardly ever mentioned that it was done by "Muslims". It was done by theocratic extremists. 
 If we really want to disempower them, we should stop re-enacting their drama for them. By overreacting and continuing to overreact to those events, we have been doing their work for them, ever since.

Exactly.  And with that, I am off to get ready for work.

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