Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fallen Man/Woman

9/11: A day for Re-Framing our Memory
Even the use of 9/11 is short-hand, a way to immediately conjure up an image with the reader. No matter if you were alive then or just born, now, 12 years later, one can easily have a memory or, at the very least, a working collective memory of what happened that day.

It is engraved on the conscience of the 21st century.

Much of my work has been with flash memoir. I’m sure the memory of what happened that day has shifted down through the past decade plus. From my book Freeze Frame: How to Write Flash Memoir I talk about the Challenger study.
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The day after the Challenger disaster Emory University professor Ulric Neisser asked his students to write down their feelings. I’m sure this was cathartic for them. But also, interestingly enough, before they graduated a few years later he asked them to again write personal essays about the Challenger disaster, specifically about what they remembered about that day.
He found three things. First, the memories of the students had dramatically changed: “twenty-five percent of the students’ subsequent accounts were strikingly different from their original journal entries. More than half the people had lesser degrees of error, and less than ten percent had all the details correct.” Second, people were usually confident that the accounts they provided two and a half years later were accurate. And third, “when confronted with their original reports, rather than suddenly realizing that they had misremembered, they often persisted in believing their current memory.”
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Nevertheless, 9/11 was an event that affected all of us—globally and locally, politically—even today, echoes of 9/11 and its repercussions are sounding throughout the halls at Capitol Hill. We’re living with the continued legacy of that day.

Yesterday, 9/10—a day by the way that has little impact upon my memory—I was thinking “Oh I hope they don’t do all that cheesy news stuff tomorrow. I hate how it’s become simply a news event, sort of like how the March on Washington a couple of weeks ago got a bit-overdone. It was significant and a turning point, but that message gets subliminated by the glitz, the logos, and other graphics the media uses to “brand.” There is a big difference between the oral tradition of telling a story and advertising a story.

Yet today I was totally conscious of the date as I crossed the street to my new office. This would be the first day after taking a couple weeks to move that I would come over and sit at my desk and my computer in a new space. For over three years I’d been moved out while the building was re-habbed. In the middle of the street I remembered: This is where I was when I heard the news. A plane has hit the World Trade Towers.

My husband on the morning of 9/11 met me half way and said let’s go watch TV. Are you crazy? I remember thinking, It’s only 9:30 a.m.; we've got to go to work. But I followed him and in the lobby of my building, a friend stopped us and said, Come watch TV with me. Again peculiar, so we followed and in a room already filled with people we watched. The horror. The awfulness. The unaffected images of what would turn out to be life-changing.

At that moment, as we watched, the pictures had not been re-shaped or re-framed by time and news outlets.

Now all we have is what our memories tell us, and how the event is portrayed on TV.

A powerful image from that day has now worked itself into our American Myth or the mythology surrounding that day. (Please do not confuse myth with conspiracy theories—omg—just reading YouTube comments is enough to make me want to resign from the human race and eject myself from planet Earth.) But myth in the sense of stories we tell ourself that get repeated over and over. That image is Falling Man.

There is an interesting YouTube video about this subject and about the iconic image that I imagine Susan Sontag—were she here today—would comment on (and not like the crazos commenting on the various YouTube sites etc on the subject of 9/11).

Falling Man is about re-framing memory, about self-censorship, about how we choose to remember.

It is a powerful video.

After seeing the AP photo dozens and dozens of times by the end of the film, you realize that the image is no longer shocking, controversial--it has been stripped of pre-conceptions--and given, in return, some humanity.

By the end of the film one realizes how the mind and our emotions play with memory, re-shaping and re-framing. And, because we are only human, susceptible to all our frailties, we're all fallen.

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