Every year September 11 takes me by surprise. I forget that the day after September 10 isn’t just a day when an article is due, when my this-or-that class is scheduled, when I’m supposed to meet up with so-and-so for coffee. I don’t remember the import of the day until it arrives, when comments start flooding the social media you can’t escape anymore. That’s when I realize what my body has already been registering for days–in the generalized depression I’ve been feeling, in the uncharacteristic anxiety that has been seizing my limbs and messing with my attention span, in my suddenly sour stomach (gut instincts being almost mundanely literal). What I recognize is I can’t run away from the losses of that day. For me, the events of 9/11 will always be profoundly personal—someone I loved died, a future I’d envisioned for my city and myself (one that included a marriage and a child) died as well. But it’s a date that everyone in the world quickly seized as their own. Now it’s the worst kind of personal-is-political—a day upon which everyone projects (institutionalizes, even enforces) their particular brand of fear and fury. If only we could make it National Shut Up and Think Day instead.
Pictured here is my amazing cousin Martine, as featured in a lengthy New York Magazine profile. Ironically, though she shares my suspicion of DNA bonds, she’s a new millennium incarnation of our outlaw grandmother Masha Rubenfire. A Polish Jewish immigrant who ran a successful Salem, Mass, brothel, Rubenfire made it all happen when her schnorrer husband ditched her with two small kids and no language skills. Martine–who looks more like Rubenfire than anyone else in our family does–has constructed a gender reality, a financial reality, a relationship reality, a technological reality, and a spiritual reality not only for herself but for others, including me. Say what we will but the blood is fierce in our line. Rubenfire helps from beyond the grave.
It’s not a complaint. I come from people who have a hard time finding employment–let alone employment they dig–and it never ceases to amaze me that I get paid for what I’ve dreamed of doing since I was small. Not to mention the tremendous satisfaction I feel as a woman, even in this day and age, that I have earned every cent in my bank account (though I wish it were more). Sometimes I want a time machine just to travel back to the ’70s and assure the worried girl I was that she’s going to pull it all off.
So the look of pity my reply evokes always makes me feel both misunderstood and a strange reciprocal pity. I could never exactly articulate why until I read this passage in a Werner Herzog interview: I’m no workaholic but a holiday is only a necessity for someone whose work is an unchanged daily routine. For me everything is constantly fresh and constantly new. I love what I do, and my life feels like one long vacation.
Maybe next time someone asks about my summer, I should just sing this quote.