if you’re barely holding it together clap your hands
it’s september 11th again.
i have so much to tell you about what i’ve been working on, but i also wanted to pause for a moment with some unrelated (well, they’re never that unrelated) thoughts.
this morning, i woke up in a friend’s house in london. i was happy, but feeling delicate. neil and i needed a night off from one another, and it was a damn good thing that we took it. it’s just a little too much at the moment. we’re both too needy in different ways…he needs time alone and to catch up, i need time to connect and plan the future, and it just isn’t working. we had to just quit for a second. take a pause. before we drove each other nuts and caused more suffering.
i was lucky, my friend (judith clute, who neil lovingly introduced me to ten years ago) had misunderstood me and thought i wanted to wake up at 7 am.
so i got a friend-wake-up call at 7 am. and decided, against all odds, that if i was up at that hour anyway, i might has well take advantage of the toddler-free situation neil had gifted me and hit a class at one of my favorite yoga studios in london, which happens to be down the street from the clutes.
i didn’t have any yoga clothes. i bought some on the way. i made a rule when i was 25: if you can muster the discipline, amanda, don’t let anything else stand in the way. not email, not the to-do list, not the lack attire. my entire yoga wardrobe is made of very strange things found on the goodwill and thrift store sports racks of the globe. i have done yoga in my jeans and a lacy bra (and been stared at, you get your ass) on occasion because i was like: fuck it. i need this more than i mind being stared at and there are no thrift shops.
the class was at 7:30, and was chock full of about 40 soon-to-be-sweaty londoners, most of whom i presume were fitting in an hour-long yoga class before commuting to work.
usually a yoga teacher opens the class with a smile, and a calming “so…let’s come into child’s pose” or a “so…welcome everybody, let’s find our way to the floor” or a “so….hello, i’m christine and i’m leading your class today. please make sure you have a strap and a block.”
the teacher, a woman in her forties, started the class today by saying:
“come to your backs, and close your eyes. seventeen years ago today, i was downtown….in new york city.”
and i was like: oh. my. fuck.
i forgot today was september 11th.
i am in london. i haven’t been reading the news. i haven’t been looking at the calendar. it had escaped me. and i lay there thinking, this is not going to be a normal yoga class.
she proceeded to talk about looking out of her office window and watching the top of the first tower exploding and crumbling.
she talked about all of the people she lost.
and she talked about how it took her deeper into her own practice, and about what it taught her about suffering. what the buddhists call dukkha. but that’s not quite a perfect translation. dukkha is more about “the fundamental unsatisfactoriness and painfulness of mundane life”.
the old saying sounds hackneyed when repeated, but it becomes more and more true everyday:
pain is inevitable. you cannot avoid it. it will happen to you.
but suffering is optional.
it sounds insane to some people, i’m sure. how can you avoid suffering? isn’t suffering normal?
well, yes. but only kind of. but if you see pain as the thing that is unavoidable (the towers fall, your friend dies, your breasts have cancer, your child is gone, your brother kills himself) and suffering as the state of mind you receive this information with (acceptance, non-resistance, non-reactivity)…you find that you can control the amount of time you spend in the shit.
it’s not to say that grief isn’t real, or that we shouldn’t feel the pain of grief, or loss, or terrible things happening to us. we should. we MUST, in order to process them and be fully human. and most important, to move on. this is why so many cultures have strict periods and rituals for grieving spouses and parents. if you don’t make the space for that grief, it cannot compost and dematerialize. it festers. (i’ve talked with a few friends who have lost their spouses at young ages who have ACHED to be able to wear clearly-signifying-black-mourning clothes. they existed for a reason.) grief is – in a way – one of the realest things we ever feel.
it didn’t feel like coincidence that i posted a nice innocent picture to instagram today, with a patina’d blue wall, saying that i was near where i dropped ash off to school every day, and somebody kinda yelled at me for not protecting my child.
i am protecting my child, i told them.
but in the other way. the way i know how.
i’ve blogged – briefly – before about my experience of 9/11 and how it felt at the moment, but one thing i don’t remember ever exploring here on the blog is that feeling that was left in america, that lack-of-grieving aftermath.
this clip is from “bridetripping”, the very weird and nostalgic documentary that my friend alina simone released a few months ago, all cut together from road trip footage in 2000. it was funded by the patreon, and i am still so so glad it exists. (you should watch it)
and we were both – as editing adults, looking back – stopped in our tracks by the footage and off-handed, cavalier discussion of the twin towers, right before they were destroyed. they just looked so normal.
it was like a metaphor for the whole load of footage: we were so young, so dumb, so silly, so pretentious, and so…free.
and i look at that footage of the towers, and myself, and, like so many americans, i’m sure i trace a path back to that moment in time…and i look at our country and what is happening in it right now. and i wonder, like i know so many of us do, how we thought we could get away with not processing.
this isn’t a dig against my fellow new yorkers. new yorkers aced it. new yorkers know how to do shit, how to work as a community, how to help and grieve and comfort. but then there was the rest of the country, and the messages from above.
go shopping, the president kept saying.
business as usual, and even more. just spend your grief away.
buy more things. keep the economy rolling. the machine must roll on.
and america the beautiful became – for the first time in my generation’s history – america the widow.
but no mourning veil. no quitting. no taking a pause. no moment of real silence, no period of long, profound reflection about how we would grow up as a result of this scar, about how we should walk more softly on the earth, as we grieved and took stock and looked around at the state of our relationships. instead, there was this finger-pointing, racist-as-it-gets, fear-mongering and vicious-radii-dog tone in the air. we’ll get those fuckers. we’ll fucking get them. we’ll fucking get them back. they will pay. we will kill them all, we will destroy them.
you don’t fuck with america.
we fight back.
america went into full-on, unrelenting, endless suffering. the pain was inevitable. the suffering – the fear (same thing?) – was optional.
and as usual…suffering led to more suffering.
and here we are, 17 years later, looking around. taking stock.
and i look back at little 24 year old amanda in that clip, and i wonder what would have happened to me, to my life, to my art, to my band, if we had been faced a different america. i’ll never know.
but i know it didn’t feel right. i know that everything we did after 9/11, which happened only 11 months after i started my band, was some kind of primal scream of resistance, a flag-planting of grief, of our need to grieve, and kick, and scream, and see the reflections of those towers coming down in each other’s faces, in our relationships, in our approach to accountability, grief, truth, and in the face of it all: joy at all costs, no matter the rubble.
i had been obsessed with german history for years, and studied there, and the comparison between the rubble of new york and dresden (and the other cities of europe that were completely annihilated in the war) wasn’t one i was particularly excited about making. but there we were anyway.
this was our first record. it’s still one of the things i’m proudest of making.
and speaking of the nineties…thanks tipper gore, we loved our parental advisory. it was a real badge of honor. we figured it would make people buy our record.
(you can hear the whole record here, for free, if you haven’t… https://dresdendolls.bandcamp.com/album/the-dresden-dolls)
i would have preferred that the city i was born in didn’t have a gaping hole in its abdomen.
but we did what we did, and what we could, subconsciously. almost. who knows.
this photo was our first real band photo shoot. kyle cassidy took this, the pile of bricks was the remains of a building next to his home that had just been demolished. it was meant to be. this was our band, in every way:
we weren’t a post-war band. but we were a post-world-trade-center band.
the last song on the first dresden dolls’ album – was inspired by (what an awful way to put it, though…maybe “written after” is better) 9/11. i’d been through a break-up that fell just as the towers were falling. he was in manhattan when it happened. it was complicated.
it’s one thing to hear it, but it’s actually more powerful by a factor of 100 to see the band play it in a tiny space, the way it was happening back then. it was just us and crowds of 100 people. and every night in boston and new york and providence, we would close the show with this song, and that last drum and piano solo was like a cry from the fucking depths. it was our mourning veil. we got to put it on every night for the last two minutes of a ten minute song.
and it makes me so grateful, in a way that i find hard to explain, that the dresden dolls are going to be playing two shows in london next month.
when i play solo, i find a certain kind of peace, i connect with the world in a certain way. but the dresden dolls…it’s like a medicine for a different ailment.
my solo shows are like a whole bottle of good red wine, crying with friends. the dresden dolls are more like ecstasy mixed with whippits and hard liquor at the end of the world, minus the health hazards and the hangover. and the actual apocalypse.
we get to scream the way we need to right now.
i like to think that all of us, my whole constellation of friends, lovers, art-mates….neil, brian, my community….america…i want to believe that everybody keeps progressing and evolving (in a nice, obvious, clean, straight line…RIGHT?) away from suffering. that the older we get, the wiser we are, the less prone we are to hurting ourselves and each other.
but i don’t know nowadays.
sometimes i feel like the whole world is sliding into a choice that i just can’t understand. the rise of nazis in germany – and all over europe, and all over…america.
we can only do what we have always known IS the only thing we can do. choose, moment by moment, to let go of the past, to embrace the now, to see each other for who we are instead of the distorted pictures we’ve drawn in our minds and to which we desperately cling.
i’m still standing. neil’s still standing. silently, we protest, along side one another, sometimes together, sometimes facing the world alone, always hoping with all our might that the fear on the horizon won’t keep marching towards us, that we’ll be able to battle it back to the dark whence it came.
i hope you’re with us.
see my tweet from yesterday morning, a lovely quote from my friend andrew o’neill:
if you’re barely holding it together clap your hands.
i’m holding it together today, but i’m just a little better than yesterday.
i love you all a lot.
peace in our times, my loves.
to all of you: i hope you’re finding a way out of whatever suffering you may be in.
and to my fellow new yorkers: i’m thinking of you all especially today.
i’m going to go have dinner with my husband. i love him.
in solid air,
——THE NEVER-ENDING AS ALWAYS———
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