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On 9/11, loss, anger, hope and Gaga

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This was originally posted on my Tumblr on Sept. 8, 2010. It was born of a creative writing exercise and is a departure from the posts I usually do on advertising, social media and tech.  

Yesterday in my creative writing class I realized that if I’m not careful I’m going to spend the semester workshopping my anger, and it’s a damn shame: I’d had so much hope for 2010 – despite Eric’s death. Even through the blizzards and the shit at work, I held on to that hope – mostly because I believed that he wanted me to and would be super pissed if I didn’t.

According to my April journal entries, I was hanging on just fine: I was insanely busy with a marketing class, two writing workshops, and I was painting the bathroom and guest room. The first weeks of spring were sleepless and bright, and hope was abundant even though I was still mourning Eric, crying unexpectedly and suffering under the delusion that I would see him again soon – so very soon – later in the spring, don’t you know? Before Smita’s farmers markets are in full swing.

There was so much I had left to tell him. So many meals left to share. Stories to hear. Trips to take. I didn’t get to hear nearly enough about Macedonia – what they ate, what they saw. My next trip was to Vegas: Trey and I were going for New Year’s because it looked like Buenos Aires wasn’t going to happen for us in 2010. And after a pressure-cooked fall, I had to escape.

“I’ll see you when you guys get back from Vegas,” he said at Thanksgiving.

“No, you won’t,” I said. “We’ll see you before then.”

“Babe, we’ll see them before then,” Smita affirmed.

We didn’t see him after that. Sometimes I believe that if I had only agreed with him that he’d still be here.

“Sure! See you then!”

After the shock turned into pain and the pain into denial, a hazy shade of winter set in. Vegas was a ridiculous bittersweet blur of fine meals and better drinks. “Go! Eat well! Toast Eric!” Smita had said. “His whole life was travel! He’ll be pissed if you don’t go!”

And so we did. At Wolfgang Puck’s CUT, I had the finest meal I’ve ever had or will have, and looking back now, it was only made better when Smita and I talked about it – in savory detail – during a phone call days later. She wanted to hear about the food so I told her about the food. We also talked about my classes and what was next for her. I remember hoping that Eric was listening in. I wanted him to know about my classes.

Around mid-January, I decided it was past time for me to actively seek out the long-lost friends who were important to me, and let them know that I was – am – glad to know them. I’d start with my college pals, the wonderful women scattered across North Carolina. As our adulthoods shifted and shaped, there were always flimsy mentions of visiting this person next season, next year, next decade. Life doesn’t allow for such hesitance. Buenos Aires still looked unlikely, so I decided I’d drive a 1,000-plus miles in a winter week, racing after people I need to know again.

As it happened that trip, I welcomed March alone and snowbound in an Asheville hotel. I could have been miserable, but mostly I was hopeful. I was submerged in a marketing textbook, quite surprised to realize how much I already knew about global distribution systems. I passed the white-gray hours reading and writing. Safety concerns cut short attempts at running on a substandard treadmill. There was quite a bit of pleasure in being so displaced.

In mid-March, one workshop wrapped and another began. I wrote and wrote and wrote some more – more than I had in years. One day a rather bizarre plot-building exercise forced me to craft a story about a beetle, a bridge game, and a cruise ship. After that feat, I entered a flash-fiction contest I’d heard about years ago. I came in third.

Had you asked me then, I would have said, yes, 2010 is good. I obviously didn’t know what May had in store. My frustration at work became nearly unbearable – and it only got worse. (I later expressed this in no uncertain terms to management, so I’m comfortable divulging it here.) Buenos Aires was downgraded to San Francisco. May further conspired against me: San Francisco fell apart eight hours before we were supposed to board our flight. There was no rescheduling; work didn’t allow for that — and wouldn’t allow for that. I wouldn’t go anywhere. Irritations mounted – one shitty surprise after another. Surely June would be better.

It wasn’t.

And the best that can be said about July and August is they weren’t quite as awful as June. Character after character, word after word, page after page, the script of Summer 2010 was an ax murder short of a horror story. Well, maybe not quite that bad. Even so, I was still angry.

I ran a lot. Nearly every day. Running didn’t help as much as I needed and wanted it to, so I was also pissed off about that. Three days into my long-awaited PR class, I realized the professor was … ill-informed at best, and my time would be better spent playing Frisbee with the dog. So much for expanding my skill set and exploring other careers.

Head, meet Wall.

Entering September, I’ve decided to stick with my writing class, but now I’m wondering whether I should. I don’t relish the idea of workshopping my anger for nearly four months. I looked at my exercises from yesterday and saw furious scrawls of “run,” “miles,” “hills,” “pissed,” “angry,” “work,” “Tysons,” “die,” “ARGH!” and “f*ck!” and little else. I wrapped up the pages by screaming at Margaret Atwood about handmaidens.

I left class feeling drained. I was tempted to cancel my plans for the Lady Gaga concert, as I was certain my mood would not improve by show time and I didn’t want to sour the fun for my friends.

Instead of canceling, I decided to chase some shadows, careful to make sure I kept safe distance from the high school’s cross-country teams. I needed to feel better, not worse, and watching a 17-year-old sprint past me and up a hill that kicks my ass every day wasn’t going to make me feel better.

As I ran – and got lost in my own neighborhood where I’ve lived for nearly two years – I thought about this year’s 9/11 Project. Each year I do something to change my life for the better. Sometimes it’s big; sometimes it’s small. It’s my way of reclaiming my autumns. I started this several years ago when I realized that if I didn’t do something – anything – that perfect September days would forever be tarnished by the terrorist attacks of 2001. It wasn’t that I wanted to forget that day; I just wanted to go forward – with hope.

It came as no surprise that I had no ideas for this year. I finished my last pitiful mile feeling sorry for myself.

A shower, a train ride, and two margaritas later, I was at the Gaga concert, which I can only describe as a Star-Trek-meets-Star-Wars-meets-Sex-and-the-City convention. Although I was older and felt out of place, I couldn’t inoculate myself against the crowd’s enthusiasm. The fans were a huge part of the spectacle, and Gaga’s loyalty to them was refreshing – even to someone as jaded as me.

What struck me most about the show – outside of Gaga’s enormous talent – was her passion and energy. Whether or not you like her music and “art,” you can’t deny that she’s giving 110 percent – and obviously loves every single second. I want to find that kind joy in what I do. I want that enthusiasm. I want that hope.

Riding home on the train with all the glittery Little Monsters in shiny shoes that hurt their feet, I marveled at how my day had changed over the course of six, seven hours. The last part of 2010 didn’t have to suck, did it? It’s not too late for a rewrite, right? I’m editor for cryin’ out loud! I can recast this year, can’t I?

So that’s this year’s 9/11 Project: reworking, rewriting 2010 with more than a little bit of hope. I have no idea how to do this. I think Eric would tell me to take it day by day. And I think he’d be super pissed if I didn’t try.

There was so much I had left to tell him.

Maybe I’ll workshop all that.

Author: Jacqui Barrineau

Jacqui Barrineau is a writer and editor who lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., with husband Trey, a Shetland Sheepdog and two unhelpful-but-funny cats. Her work has appeared in "So to Speak" and "Calliope," and she's a regular contributor to the flash-fiction sites Paragraph Planet and Doorknobs & Bodypaint. Once upon a time, she was the audience engagement editor at USA Today. Now she does other fun things that involve advertising, marketing and social media. The views expressed here and in other outlets are hers, not her clients'. Outside of work, she's proud to serve on the Northern Virginia Community College Marketing Advisory Committee. As a committee member, she joins industry leaders in lending their knowledge and expertise to ensure the college's Marketing curriculum is relevant and responsive to the needs of the students and the surrounding business communities.

One thought on “On 9/11, loss, anger, hope and Gaga

  1. Pingback: On 9/11, Facebook and Gaga — again « J's Pages