The photo above is one of me and the cast of my first post-college play. I’d call it my first “professional” acting gig, but none of us got paid. It was an all-black (except for me, obviously – dang, I was a minority in a room full of minorities!) production of Antigone. The production was crappy, but I loved the cast (and we bonded in the face of a well-meaning, but less-than-competent director), and I was excited, because it was the first thing I’d auditioned for that I got. I was in The Chorus. This photo was taken in October 2001.
I’m posting it, because today is September 11th, and it’s the kind of day that needs acknowledging somehow. I’ll leave the grief to the families of the victims. Thankfully, I didn’t know anyone in the Towers (though I know a couple of close calls), so I don’t feel right pretending to wallow in sadness today. My heart is with anyone who lost anyone that day…but that’s all. If you’d like to know my experience of that day, you can read all about it in this post I wrote in 2004.
But today, I thought about the fact that I was in this play a month after the attack on the World Trade Center. While the atmosphere in the city had changed, was charged in a way it had never been before in my lifetime…people were still making art. People were still going to plays. People were still dying their hair ridiculous shades of red/orange/blonde (or maybe that was just me?).
The point is, a month after this tragedy happened, the city was going about its business. With shifted priorities and a new wariness, for sure, but still – we moved on. It’s always interesting to me when people I meet from outside New York talk to me about 9/11. It’s become this mythological event to those outside NYC, and when people have asked me about where I was that day, or what the city was like, I always feel like they expect this horrible, tragic tale; like they expect to hear about a New York that was either beautifully solemn or inspiring in its fierce survival.
The thing is, while I was inspired by the ability of my city to pick itself up and dust itself off, it didn’t feel as dramatic as all that on the inside. We’d simply found a new normal. And a month later – despite the armed military now at all the major train stations; despite the warnings to “say something” if we “see something”; despite the trips to volunteer with the Red Cross at Ground Zero, or new security concerns at all major office buildings – I was in a really bad production of Antigone at a teensy theater while working a day job. I had just graduated from college, and was starting my post-collegiate life hopeful, because I had a job that paid my bills and I was able to pursue the arts I loved.
I don’t know why I’m writing all this, really. I guess I just want people to know that life in New York after September 11th wasn’t a movie. It wasn’t whatever dramatic scenario you might be imagining in your head – (though I’m of the opinion that every life, no matter how “normal” and “boring” has drama to be found in it). It was just life, and it went on, whether people lost people in the Towers or not. People went to jobs, went home to families, and did things like go to sporting events, or movies, or plays.
People tend to mythologize New York if they’re not from there, either putting it on a pedestal or demonizing it. The truth is, it’s the World’s Biggest Small Town. It’s a place where people know each other and you can’t go five feet without bumping into someone that you either dated or went to high school with. It’s a place where, despite what television might have taught you, no one really cares (except maybe the transplants) what you wear or what you do so long as you stand by your choices. They might argue with you about those choices, but it isn’t a genuine attempt to change your mind – it’s just that life in a melting pot teaches you to appreciate the heat of molecules colliding with each other, and we’re raised to love the energy of a good fight. But people grow up, live, work, and die in New York, just going about their business and not doing anything very grand at all. People raise children and hold blue-collar jobs. People have close friends and care about strangers. I guess it bothers me that my New York often gets lost in the hype – so I’m writing about it now.