deadpeoplecoverSun Ra

(1914 – 1993)

In the Egyptian section of the Penn Museum stands a man. He is next to a 12-ton sphinx and is wearing a multicolored dreamcoat. His beret shimmers; a red cape hangs about his shoulders. “Planet Earth can’t even be sufficient without the rain, it doesn’t produce rain, you know,” he tells the camera. “Sunshine… it doesn’t produce the sun. The wind, it doesn’t produce the wind. All planet Earth produces is the dead bodies of humanity. That’s its only creation.” The man pauses and slides his hand across the sphinx. “Everything else comes from outer space. From unknown regions. Humanity’s life depends on the unknown. Knowledge is laughable when attributed to a human being.”

Truman Capote likened the finishing of a novel to taking your child into the back yard and shooting it. As a parent, I’m intrigued by the mind that could have created that sentence. Still, I take his point. I was all but undone by the completion of my previous novel, cried for days, became physically ill.  Wracked with grief for what I’d created and destroyed. But not with this one. This one felt more like letting go of a red balloon. There was that sense of loss, but also elation. I’d seen its shape from the beginning, knew from the moment I conceived it, that it wasn’t mine to keep. They never are.

It helps that this is the shortest novel I’ve ever written, that it’s almost pure genre, that it’s undercut by comedy and that, unlike with previous works, I have an agent waiting for it. It helps that I have the distraction of another book launch, some other big events at home. I wonder how long I should leave it to germinate. Is that the word? Ferment, foment? Will it sprout wings? A tail? Bubble and toil? Stephen King says the longer the better. Six months, a year. That makes sense when you’re juggling best sellers, movie deals and miniseries. But for the rest of us, when is ripe rotten? I won’t be the same person in a year. I may not remember what it was like to be the me of 2011, writing this novel. Why I did it may not seem so important. There may be other distractions, a new project. I may, over time, not be able to connect with the urgencies that impelled these characters at this time, in these places. And as any (speculative) fiction writer knows, timing is everything. Secret video footage of Princess Diana was central to my first novel. By the time I finished it, there WAS secret footage of Princess Diana.  An editor and I agonized recently over a short story that mentioned Osama Bin Laden. What do you do? Insert ‘the late’?  Replace Bin Laden with Al Zawahri? Who?

So, I’m thinking weeks rather than months. Catch up on TNB posts, hang up a Gone To Google+ sign on my Facebook wall; pull weeds, try to stay away from the body in the back yard. Murdered child, phooey. Get real, Truman, if finishing a book was like killing your kid, there’d be hell to pay.

You hate our president. I know the feeling well.

I hated our previous president. His policies struck me as wrong-headed, and his way of expressing himself rubbed me the wrong way almost every time. Perhaps you can relate.


Two weeks later, and Osama bin Laden is still dead. In the interim, TNB writers have reflected on what his death means:


Alison Aucoin‘s take: “The death of Osama Bin Laden is not cause for jubilation. It is cause for grief that a person chose to react to the horror of oppression by creating infinitely more horror and oppression.”


Simon Smithson writes, “I don’t know how to reconcile everything I know and everything I feel, but one thing I’m certain of is that the easy way out of the dilemma is the one that sees people dying.”


“Let him be a memory not just of fire and falling men,” says Andrew Panebianco, “but also of just how precious it is to cling to that shred of what’s good in us.”


“A real triumph resounds over decades,” Nat Missildine writes.  “You hear it as a slow roar of hope in the unassuming coexistence of others, in a man practicing proper dental care on a one-time site of tragedy and in Americans analyzing the busted fragments of the last ten years.”


Brian Eckert says, “Now that we’ve shot our collective patriotic load into the womb of vengeance, it’s time to roll over and think about what we’ve done, and more importantly, how we’re going to get out of here.”


The Dust adds, “Whether bin Laden’s hunkered down in the punishing fires of Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus, Hades, Vitti, Peklo, or Jahannam…talking Mullah Omar into blowing up those huge Buddha statues outside Kabul seems like a really crappy idea right about now.”


One thing’s for sure: if his goal was to drive American forces away from the Arab world, bin Laden’s life was the kind of spectacular failure that makes Matt Millen and Heaven’s Gate seem like hiccups.


Dear Dust

So Bin Laden is dead about nine minutes and suddenly everyone around me is all conspiracy this, perfect timing that. I’d say about half of my friends think Bush knew where he was all along, and the other half think Obama killed Osama to distract us from the birth certificate. I’m confused. Do any of these theories have merit? Please un-confuse me.

Miss Lu

I was watching the Mets play the Phillies on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball when the broadcaster announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Immediately, I flipped to CNN for more details and watched Wolf Blitzer juggle numerous correspondents as details of the event poured in. I stayed tuned for about 20 minutes, and during that time the crowd gathering on the White House lawn grew from dozens to hundreds to thousands. They waved American flags and climbed atop each others’ shoulders, chanting “USA! USA!” Their celebratory uproar reached a volume that made it difficult for one reporter on the scene to be heard. The surreal spectacle looked like the tail end of a debauched 4th of July barbecue.

 

I live in an apartment in Dijon, France that is centrally located between the train station and the original Maille mustard shop where tourists come to sample the sinus-clearing condiments that the town is famous for.Our home is situated off a pleasant side street that remains quiet even during the bustling hours of the week.We have a view out of our third-floor window onto the gothic Saint-Benigne cathedral with the gold, red and green roof tiles traditional to the Burgundy region.

In the foreground of the cathedral, stands a slightly newer stone building.It’s a residence like ours, but one that also houses the offices of a psychotherapist and a dentist, both on the ground floor.Its north side is covered in lush green ivy.

This building was also, once, the headquarters of the Gestapo.

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I went to sleep after CNN broke the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death and before Obama’s speech. I drifted off remembering the incredible relief I felt many years ago when a person who committed a great crime against me died, and I wished the same for the Sept 11th survivors and families.

They come from bars and frat houses,
Chins sporting the last chug’s dregs;
They’ve shut down the POTUS block
Down lawn chairs! Time to tap the kegs!

“Na na na! Hey hey hey! Goodbye!”
Caught in the unstoppered ear—
Perspective fails the sloppy street
It’s just one terrorist’s career!

What giant wheels when Brezhnev sent
Red troops into Afghanistan;
House of Saud and CIA,
Tipped shots to Charlie Wilson’s plan.

Five minutes before President Obama addressed the nation and told us that his administration had successfully tracked down and killed Osama Bin Laden, I was watching Airplane! with some friends.

I’m not making that up, I swear.