October 3, 2006
The three timed writing exercises
were written in 30 minutes (each). Each one demonstrates the
variety of responses one may get to a single topic when written on
Note that each piece is in
"draft" form and may not hang together exactly; however, each is
worthy of further development. The students' work was equally
varied and personal, demonstrating how a "first take" may give
new insights into our thinking.
September 11: Writing 12
September 11 marks a division in my life,
between what I was (or thought I was) and what I have become.
Perhaps my shaking hands that day were the best indication of
the seismic shock that the day has had on me from that point
forward. From the mundane, making coffee in the morning, looking
out to see the brilliant blue sky, to the incomprehensible, two
huge buildings collapsing in a cloud of dust. The smoke covering
most of lower Manhattan, the people jumping from the towers. All
that in a span of 10 minutes or so. And then everyone left. My
wife to work. My son to school. My daughter far away in the
mountains. Lucky her! Even when she returned it wasn’t the same
for her. You really had to be there.
I don’t know how many times I’ve seen the
second plane flying low over the city and seen it, wings tilted,
enter into the second tower. What a violation of time and space
it was! It disappears and comes out the other side in a gigantic
orange cloud. And how pretty the glass in the blue air of that
perfect September morning. And how to imagine that in the orange
cloud were bits of people, of desks, of computers, of mundane
files, cell phones, briefcases?
I think of the song “Ashes to Ashes and Dust
to Dust” and know it’s true: all that we have built will
eventually be dust. What amazed me and amazes me still is that
those 3 000 people, those who died, vanished from the earth in
those clouds of dust as the buildings fell. They truly were
gone, gone forever. Atomized. And like that girl’s voice
yesterday in Montreal, that girl who sounded just like my
daughter, the evil can come out of nowhere, out of a sunny
afternoon, out of anything at all.
We cannot really expect that it is any
different. Perhaps that’s what September 11 means to me is that
nothing is certain. Exactly as Szymborska says to us in her
poem, “Nothing’s a gift; it’s all on loan.” We imagine ourselves
differently don’t we? We imagine that we’ll escape nothingness.
So have I really changed I wonder? Do I really
understand how to live with this knowledge? Well, I drive to
school every day and know it is more dangerous than anything
else that I do. I accept that. But what is unknown will be
forever so. When the girl in Montreal went to class yesterday
morning, kissed her mother goodbye, said “See you later” and
really meant it, how could she imagine that it would soon be
over? How could anyone? Why should we think it is any different
September 11 could be positive. It could teach
us that we don’t control everything. We don’t get to decide
everything. We don’t even have to like it. Like going to the
dentist. Maybe it could fix us in some way. I’m waiting for it;
I’m waiting for it; I’m waiting.
September 11 English 12
Now I have to consider what may happen with my
forcing this topic on my students. It made for another sleepless
night; how might this affect them; how might this hurt them. But
then I think, once again, that it is the right thing, a way into
the hearts of my students in the first week of school. We all
saw the same things, but how we interpret them and live them is
different for each of us. Clearly, for Muslim women, the hurt is
much deeper and more personal. They will be singled out for
sure. And after what has happened in June, in Canada, it is even
How to reconcile a mild mannered Muslim man
saying that he would answer a call to Jihad from his sunny
Victoria home? How to understand men who actively seek nuclear
weapons to use on innocent people?How to break through all the
loaded language of those who commit similar atrocities, but give
them new names: a war against terror that uses terror to fight?
We are being watched in unprecedented ways.
Are we really so very bad that we require such treatment? For
the better of the whole some say, or why worry if you’ve done
nothing wrong? But what if the authorities get it wrong? From
what I know of those in authority it is a depressing
And then there is the venal envious nature of
man himself. With unlimited power, comes unlimited abuse. I
always knew that we, at our core, are capable of anything.
Students in a “simulated” prison setting would abuse other
students within a week of the beginning of an experiment. Just
like Abu Ghraib. How are we able to ignore the humiliating abuse
against people that we witnessed, that went unpunished, that is
September 11 has brought out the worst in us,
perhaps. We saw the worst and rose up to meet it. Protecting
ourselves, we strike out at others without comprehending. Do
unto others as they would do unto you. Well, they started it,
9/11 didn’t change the world, it changed the
way we see the world some might say. The world was always thus.
It is a bloody place of feuds and battles; war is the natural
condition of man. And planning for war is the natural behaviour
of those who rule us. It keeps us interested, hating others for
no reason other than that “difference.”
What solutions might there be for our
behaviour, what lead to this, what makes Canadian teenagers want
to blow up a fertilizer bomb outside the CBC? That’ll have to
wait as time has run out . . .
September 11 for ELA 11
Again I come to this topic and again I search
for an answer. The buildings destroyed posed the question five
years ago. What does it mean? What did these terrorists want us
For sure they wished to do more damage. The
Pentagon was hit, but what was the 4th plane’s target? The
Capitol; the White House? It could have been worse I decide and
that still affects me just as much today as it did then.
I missed the sarin gas attacks in the Tokyo
subway by five days. Just today I hear that Japan will execute
the man responsible (some 11 years later). That seemed like a
dangerously close call to me then, but nothing could prepare me
for seeing two buildings collapse into dust before my eyes that
One of the effects for sure is “what next”? We
had, it’s easy to forget, the anthrax attacks that followed in
October of 2001. One of my students at the time said she had
become afraid to turn on the TV for fear of what might come
next. She was relieved when all was normal, just the usual car
accidents, murders, lost children . . .
And the violence unleashed since that day is
hard to stomach, hard to imagine. On the day we lost one young
girl in Montreal, Baghdad lost dozens of innocent lives. Here in
Canada, it’s over; there it continues in a river of blood, day
by day, inexorable.
How would I feel, facing that? It seems that
what’s happened to us is we’ve buried our heads further into the
sand. We eat, drink, make merry. We drive oversized cars, use
gas without care. Meanwhile, the Inuit need to update their
vocabulary. Their language has no words for wasp or for robin.
Nowadays they swim in the summer in Canada’s arctic! Maybe
terrorism could act as an attempt to get our attention, a call
to save ourselves before it was too late. We are truly a plague
upon the planet; the deaths from car accidents in a single year
equal all those from terrorism in a century.
It seems, finally, that we don’t get it. Our
world, our safe little Canada, is part of the greater world. And
that world is seriously messed up. Much of what we do in the
middle east seems dictated by our wasteful and selfish and
indulgent habits. Many of us with our own phone, multiple
computers, a bedroom for each child. All changed in one
generation. Yet we build and build and build, take and take and
So, there you have it: the terrorists woke me
up, made me feel guilty for who I am, for what I do. Perhaps not
such a bad thing?