September 11, 2004

The Day of Turning Off

Like many people who weren't in Washington, Pennsylvania, or New York that day, I did a lot of turning on the television on September 11, 2001.

On that day and on subsequent days, I did a lot of turning off the television, too.

Sometimes it was because something hit me too hard and I couldn't take the grief anymore. Sometimes the sight of one more person being interviewed while holding a "MISSING: " poster was too horrible.


Sometimes it was because my amazement, my awe at how people were pulling together in the face of this destruction, was so overwhelming that I felt ashamed for not being more grateful for what I had. I felt ashamed for complaining about petty annoyances while firefighters, police officers, and volunteers--volunteers!--were working around the clock to put some order into the chaos.


Sometimes that flaming wreck in Pennsylvania was just--


Sometimes that enormous wound in the Pentagon just--


At first, these were the sorts of reasons I had to turn off the television.

Gradually it became something else.

Gradually, it became hearing one more panel of experts urging grief counseling while omitting one key stage of the grief process: anger.

Gradually, it became seeing the spokesperson for CAIR on, again berating the U.S. for its intolerance of Muslims, even as his organization displayed no such tolerance of Jews; even as I knew of no one not tolerating Muslims, even as I recalled that Muslims were also among the dead that day, even as phrases like "Wahabbist Islam" were entering the American collective consciousness.

Gradually, it became watching a poignant segment on one of the victims veer suddenly into a talking head discussion of how we could, and should, move on.

Gradually, it became listening to the neutered and spayed language all the time: We hadn't been "attacked;" we had been "challenged." We weren't "at war;" we were "victims." We weren't "trying to find answers;" we were "avoiding a rush to judgment."

Gradually, I was getting fed up. Gradually, it got easier not to turn the damn thing on in the first place.

The so-called "warblogs" came up at the right time for me--probably for many people. Nature abhors a vacuum. When the media refused to give people what they sought--information, however raw and personal--and devoted more and more of its time to nannying its audience to death, it was only a matter of time before--


I feel often, and especially today, that I owe a debt of gratitude to these writers for their voluntary efforts to get the information out, whether that information was personal, political, or an inspired mixture of both. I would like to thank some of them here, but I would like to do it without accusations of link-whoring, so I advise interested parties to Google those mentioned (or simply see the blogroll at left; most of them are still around and still going strong).

I have some ideological differences with him now, and he's often accused of not being a "real" blogger, but he was the first one I found. Through him I found all the others, and I enjoyed his writing immensely: Andrew Sullivan.

He used to race Instapundit to see who could rack up more posts in a day, and his enthusiasm and skill at weblogging were a joy to behold: Stephen Green, the Vodkapundit.

He writes every weekday. He writes every weekday at the end of the day, after housework and child-rearing and paid work, and he does it like nobody's business, and when I found my boyfriend reading a post on another blog that disparaged him I yelled, yes YELLED, at the screen, because to my mind you don't ever knock that quality of effort when it's both consistent and free: James Lileks.

She had the best blog ever. She put the heart and the soul into it and she took enormous grief for it and she kept coming back anyway, and she led drive after drive to help not herself, but others. When I read remarks by guys who essentially do nothing beyond linking an article in the Washington Post and tacking on a two-sentence, indifferent conclusion . . . when I read some guy opining that the "problem" with women bloggers is that they're "too emotional" or "too personal" in their writing . . . I think, She was better than you on her worst day. And I hope she comes back: Michele at A Small Victory.

I think that, sadly, there are many blog readers out there who don't realize how this guy got to be so beloved, who don't understand why he can go three weeks without a single post, then do up a short one, and be instantly linked by the high-traffic bloggers just like that. They don't know because they weren't reading him back then and the archives are largely no longer available, thanks to the malicious insanity of one real asshole. Some people have no idea, because they don't know how grateful people were for a laugh back then--or no, maybe they do know that, but simply don't know how brilliantly this guy delivered: Jim Treacher.

She was my primer for all things Israel and I've never seen her back down from anything, whether it was hurled at her from left or from right, and she always, always, always has her facts. You are not going to win an argument with her, so shut up; and maybe, if you're nice, you'll be blessed with a hilarious entry from the diary of Iseema bin Laden: Meryl Yourish.

I didn't have to read about the clean-up efforts at the World Trade Center in the New York Times. I read about them from a woman who volunteered there: Megan McArdle.

I don't remember what her blog was called back then. I only know that I follow it through all its iterations and I love it because on days when I am cranky, I can usually bet that she will be even more cranky, only it will be crankiness laid out beautifully, focused and woven into something almost elegant. It will be designer crankiness. If I am lucky, it will be crankiness directed at someone or something that's also been subtly pissing me off all this time, only I didn't know how to express it: Andrea Harris.

These people helped me very much. These people were mouse-clicks away when I could not take the television or the radio or the papers or, hell, my you-don't-know-what-it's-like-because-you-never-lived-in-a-Muslim-country-like-I-did-although-granted-it-was-a-heavily-guarded-American-compound-and-I-didn't-really-mix-with-the-locals-much coworkers.

When you are tempted to cynical put-downs of "big bloggers," remember that while they did not invent weblogs, they were instrumental in shaping the way political weblogs look today. And when you are tempted to blame them for the way political weblogs look today (what? Why are you looking at me like that?), try to mix some credit with the blame. And when you are tempted to sneer "link whore!" at the littler bloggers who link them, consider that maybe there's more going on there than just the desire for traffic. Maybe it's gratitude.

That is all I have to say today. Remember September 11, 2001, in a way that works for you.

And maybe remember those who helped you never forget, too, if you want.

UPDATE (via Kesher Talk): This is not how to remember.

Posted by Ilyka at September 11, 2004 05:07 PM in i don't know you tell me

"Designer crankiness." Woot! :)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at September 12, 2004 06:39 AM

Before September 11, blogs were a curiosity to me but not worth much further thought. They became part of my life after September 11. The one that turned me on was Michael Moran's blog at MSNBC. Cool-headed, knowledgeable, and not particularly left or right, his writing was exactly what I needed. The feelings of sadness and anger that accompanied that event are still with me and I still get overwhelmed with emotion when I hear a story about that day and, like you, I was nowhere near it yet it was like losing immediate family members.

Click, indeed.

Posted by: Rob at September 12, 2004 06:44 AM

Wonderful post.

Posted by: Ith at September 15, 2004 12:36 AM