I think the time has come to take a “fearless inventory” of the problem plaguing me, and I suppose this place is as good as any. The fact is this: I’m not doing so well living in an age of heightened terrorism. Something about the situation in the world right now, and the threats to the town in which I live and work, is unearthing severely painful feelings in the base of my gut, and the combination of therapy and medicine is, so far, only quelling the beast.
In the days immediately following 9/11, I thought I’d never leave New York. There was something so beautiful in those moments, scary yet teeming with a spiritus mundi that was excellently rhapsodized in our first-hand accounts of living in lower Manhattan in those days. The whole city shut down and our brownstone on 8th Ave. could only be entered with proper identification, but I didn’t feel scared, only hopped up on the sense of history and the tangible feeling that we were really helping people in need. My sister Michelle really shone in those precious moments after the attack, unleashing an epiphany that still glows in her today (she just finished her training and is now officially an EMT).
But as the weather turned gray, cold and ugly – and the war on Afghanistan started – more supposed details about the terrorists bubbled to the surface, and I began to get genuinely freaked out. People were contracting anthrax, the efficacy of our smallpox vaccine was called into question, and the rhetoric started to flow from bin Laden and his cohorts: suddenly my shoebox apartment in the East Village, where I slept about six inches from the ceiling, stopped seeming “cute” and became almost sarcophagan.
By December, I was spending much of my day thinking about the threat of nuclear terrorism; by January, I stopped eating more than a few bites a day. I lost seven pounds, wrote desperate emails to my family, begging them to move out of the city, and in a coup, managed to move Tessa and I to Brooklyn. We picked Park Slope not just because Tessa had always loved it, but also because I looked on a map, and it was at least three miles from downtown Manhattan.
Since then, I have been getting better, but I’ve been stuck in a holding pattern. Part of the problem is that I thought researching the news of terrorism would make me feel better; instead, most news sources, anxious for ratings, lavish the public with only the worst warnings imaginable. Each time I feel a panic attack coming on, I seem to find a newspaper article or magazine blurb talking about suitcase nukes; even my friend Colin and his Newsweek pal Mike told stories about the destruction that could await New York; “I wouldn’t be on the five-year plan,” one of the government spooks had told them.
And it leaves me here in May, about to turn 35, with a new fiancee and the possibility of a life ahead of us – and I can’t even think about the wedding next year, because to be frank, next year sounds like an excruciatingly dangerous place. I’m having a birthday celebration up in Columbia County for Memorial Day, but I feel like the whole thing is some Control Freak Fantasy of mine to get everyone in one place where I know they won’t be hurt.
Obviously, this line of reasoning goes nowhere. The only path to happiness is letting go of the weariness of control (what the Buddhists call “somsara”) and trying to find solace in the realm of impermanence. But there something about the Empire State Building, which now makes my stomach hurt every time I see it peeking from behind a tree or over the river, that makes me long for something permanent. I don’t like having my family in New York City; I don’t like having Sean on 35th Street and Michelle on 11th. It seems clear that our country will be sorely tested at some point in the near future, and I don’t want my family fucked with.
I want to move Asset Pictures to a place in Brooklyn, accessible by all subways, but off the island. I want my family to look at Manhattan the same way I’d like to: a place to have fun, ingest art and soak in nightlife – but not a place to be during working hours. And I know that’s largely impossible, so I feel stuck. Unbelievably, irreparably stuck. It’s a terrible analogy to contemplate, but sometimes I feel like we’re Jews living in 1935 Berlin, and ghostly voices are calling from the future, “get the fuck out of there!”
Tonight there’s another vague yet sweeping warning to the residents of New York that “city landmarks” are targeted for attack. In a way, I’m almost heartened by the specificity of them, because the thing I’m truly worried about is a radiological bomb taking out lower Manhattan and radiating over the boroughs. I have two scenarios, actually: a bomb that is designed to take out the financial district, or one that will take out Midtown and the Empire State Building. I go through the scenarios in my head all the time: is Michelle close enough to be hurt by a downtown bomb? Would a midtown bomb get all of us at Asset and Sean? It’s so exhausting that the thoughts themselves have taken on character, so that I no longer even have to be reminded of the specifics, just the vague sense of doom.
In essence, the terrorists have accomplished a victory over me. They’ve forced me to abandon normal waking thoughts, driven me to the therapist, and shoved milligrams of Celexa down my throat. I’m still functioning, and I’m back to eating normally, but this heightened state of alert, where the sympathetic “fight or flight” hormones rage through me with the regularity of desert prey, sits awfully with my psyche.
Perhaps my greatest fear is that I’ve always considered myself a lucky product of the late twentieth century; there’s simply no other time when I would have survived. If a six-week premature birth didn’t get me, the appendicitis, croup or various other childhood afflictions would. There would be no laser surgery for my eyes, no allopurinol for gout, no neurontin for a slipped disc. I am an artist, a writer, and no matter what Hollywood – or Arts & Leisure writers for the New York Times – tries to tell you, artists are not going to be very useful in the apocalypse. I want to believe in a world where the dork has a chance to survive and thrive, where sensitivity and intellect are valued. A world full of terror brings all dorks, including me, back to the pavement-pounding trauma of third grade, and I’m having a very hard time going through that again.
I’ll try to end on a positive note: that the future is an ever-changing realm where truly anything can happen, and among the things that can happen is absolutely nothing. All I know is what I read from news sources that have been filtered by corporations and our own government to suit their needs, no matter how subtle. The future is also notoriously tricky for predictions; the truth usually ends up being more interesting. And despite my overweening belief that the next attacks will again be in New York, this is a big fucking country and there are plenty of other places they can go. Besides, destroying part of New York would not only kill thousands of Muslims, but why flatten the only beautiful things in America? I mean, why can’t they bomb shit like this:
one more strip mall cleared out of an ancient forest somewhere in Wherever, VA