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Thursday, July 07, 2005

The age of anxiety

Seen today on the two forms of extremely crowded mass transit I took:

City police
State police
National Guardsmen
German Shepherds

No visible weapons, though--there was a time, for probably up to two years after 9/11 when you'd pretty regularly see Nat'l Guards with gi-normous guns (rifles? machine guns? really big suckers, anyway) in the two main transit hubs. I was in one once when I saw two Nat'l Guards carrying huge guns break into a RUN, yelling to a third across the way, and it totally freaked me out. Nothing happened, though, that I could see.

Anyway, for obvious reasons I've been thinking about 9/11 again, though I'm not going to blog about my own experience in any detail (for one thing, too self-absorbed a thing to do on a day like today, and for another, it would be too complicated to try to do so in sufficiently general terms). So all I'm going to say is that although it completely pisses me off that 9/11 has become a catch-all excuse, a conversation stopper, and an occasion for enforced solemnity and fake piety every time it's invoked--at the same time, life changed tremendously after 9/11 for those of us who live in these major target cities.

We probably talk about it less than Mrs. Grundy in Dubuque (no offense to any readers in Dubuque! I hear it's lovely!), and we may even think about it less on a conscious level, but speaking for myself I know I'm much jumpier and more anxious than I used to be. I go through periods of really thinking about the possibility of an attack on the metropolitan subway system--which line would be the worst one to be on? At which hour? I've never altered my routine in the least, because really, you can't live your life like that--but I do think about it.

But I'm also more anxious about the possibility of (non-terrorist-related) plane crashes, car crashes, the person too close behind me on the street at night, and even the random guy in a suit who's the only other person in the elevator with me at 2 in the afternoon; things that don't have any connection to terrorism, and that aren't even objectively the cause for any kind of alarm, but that I'm completely convinced have to with 9/11 (and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the probable torture at Gitmo and just the darker view of human nature that all of this has caused me to take--and mind you, I wasn't Mary Sunshine before then).

I don't mean to imply that people elsewhere don't also suffer from this same sense of dislocated anxiety or the low-level PTSD that can be caused by overdosing on upsetting news coverage; I'm sure they do (else, how to explain the "national security" vote for Bush in November?). But I think there's something different, and really hard to describe, about the experience of being in a city with a big ol' target on it: constant anxiety, but also a kind of anger and stoicism and "fuck it, let's go have a drink" all rolled together.

I remember a conversation I had with a grad school colleague who I ran into on the street the day after 9/11. She had her orals coming up in about a week, and she was saying how she couldn't get any studying done because all she was doing was staring at the television--and really, how could she be expected to read Chaucer at a time like this? But in the same breath she went on and said that of course she couldn't stop studying! Because that's what the terrorists wanted! For her to fail her orals!

And she was laughing, but also in earnest, and I think that's how most people felt around these parts back then, and probably how they feel in London today as well. Hey terrorists: FUCK YOU.

(Yeah, sorry that this went and got so self-indulgent after all. I hope everyone's friends and family members are okay out there...)

link | posted by La Lecturess at 9:16 PM |


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