I almost can’t believe it has been seven years since 9/11. It’s gone so quickly; the memories and emotions are still so raw. And yet so much has happened in the seven years. It feels like a different world now; less innocent and sure of itself. That one moment changed so much.
I still remember it so clearly. My parents told me there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center; I came through to watch just as the second plane struck. For hours we just sat there, feeling helpless and numb. My thoughts went to my friends in America and while they were okay, it seemed like everyone knew someone who had been affected by the attacks.
What I remember most about 9/11 is actually the following day, September 12. As it happened during our night there wasn’t much information available until the 12th our time. All during that day, wherever you went, people were stunned. That an attack like 9/11 might happen somewhere had always been a grim possibility but the extent was beyond anyone’s worst fears.
As time passed we heard about the signs people missed but I try not to think about them too much. I don’t think anything could have stopped 9/11; contained the damage, perhaps, but not stopped it. While knowing where the agencies and bureaucracy went wrong is important, it’s easy to focus on that so much that we forget the human impact as well.
Almost 3000 people died on 9/11 but it means so much more than that… the husbands and wives who never went home, the fire fighters and police officers who gave their lives. I can’t imagine what it must be like, to live with the grief the families must still feel… to watch your child grow up without their mother or father. It must be heart-breaking.
I started to write this poem for last year’s anniversary but it was never quite what I wanted it to be. I’m happier with it now; I decided to post it on the 12th instead as it’s about the day after the attacks and learning to live with the grief. I hope it is a respectful tribute to the people who died and their families. May we never forget them.
I’m happy to announce I’ve just passed a small milestone. This post marks my 200th post! About time, eh? 🙂 While I know it’s not that many posts, considering I wasn’t sure if I would continue blogging that long ago reaching 200 posts is something I’m quite pleased with.
I’ve known the 200 was coming for some time and it seemed like a good time to change my blog as well. I’m now self-hosted. After several experiences on WordPress, I felt it was time for a change; I have less time for blogging and this way I can enjoy writing at my own pace. I’m looking at it as a chance to explore some new ideas, so I hope you enjoy the journey with me.
I wanted to do a special post for my 200th and decided to save the second part of my books project for the occasion. I’m quite happy with how it’s turned out so far. It’s been fun revisiting these books again.
This second part is more about the books that have shaped my philosophy. There’ll be one last part to end the series next week, a profile of the three books that have had the biggest impact on my life. Let me know if you’ve read any of them. I wonder which books have changed your life? 😉
American Pastoral by Philip Roth American Pastoral is one of those novels that leaves you reeling. On the surface it’s about two parents whose idyllic life is destroyed when their daughter sets off a bomb to protest the Vietnam War. But beneath that Roth examines the morality of objectivism (Merry becomes a Jain, concerned about murdering germs while oblivious to the deaths she caused) and the bond between fathers and daughters. Swede’s world falls apart and Pastoral left me wondering how far we’ve really come in 40 years. Which is Roth’s point.
The Speaking Land by Ronald and Catherine Berndt
I’ve been interested in Aboriginal mythology since I was young, particularly the stories of The Dreaming and the Rainbow Serpent. Aboriginal culture dates back over 50,000 years and The Speaking Land is the best collection I’ve read; it gives a real sense of the beliefs behind the myths, the reverence Aboriginal people have for the land and the spirit. It showed me an Australia I didn’t know, one I wish more people could see.
God Said, Ha! by Julia Sweeney God Said, Ha! is remarkable in that it deals with big issues like cancer and death in an honest way and never feels depressing. In the mid 90s Julia Sweeney had just begun to look forward to a new life, but then her brother was diagnosed with cancer. As she started to care for him her parents moved in – and then Sweeney was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It’s a sad memoir and yet incredibly funny and insightful. It shows how laughter can get us through even the most difficult of times.
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
I first read Nietzsche in high school but didn’t try again until a few years ago. As a critique of society Beyond Good and Evil is still relevant but it’s Nietzsche’s development of the “will to power” I find interesting. It’s often interpreted as violent (or fascistic) but that wasn’t what Nietzsche meant; rather it’s about overcoming individual weakness, explaining the motivations of individuals and societies and their actions. It’s one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve read and has influenced my writing many times.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
I first read Kafka at about the same time as Nietzsche and I loved the absurdity of Metamorphosis. The idea of waking up one day as a giant insect makes the story so surreal but also very human. Kafka is less interested in the science of the transformation than in how Gregor tries to adjust to his new life. In the end it’s a very sad, tragic story, and yet darkly funny. Which makes its critique of society and our loss of humanity all the more poignant.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke Childhood’s End was one of the first SF books I read. It’s about an alien race that suddenly appears on Earth, promising to help humans reach their full potential; and yet reaching that potential means losing everything that makes us who we are. Clarke uses the story to explore the idea of utopia and what the loss of inspiration means for society. The depth of ideas in the novel is staggering and it leaves you both a little wiser and sadder for having read it.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I didn’t like The Handmaid’s Tale the first time I read it; I was too young but I was stunned when I reread it. It’s a moral fable, a warning against the dangers of totalitarianism, and it has a feel of history to it that makes it all the more troubling. Set in an America where women are property and the Handmaids’ only role is to have children, Handmaid is eerie when you think about the role of women in some countries. Atwood’s other novel Oryx & Crake is almost as powerful.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
It’s hard to decide which is the better novel between Animal Farm and1984 but Animal Farm, with its complete disdain of power and those who abuse it, has always left more of an impact on me. As a novel critiquing social and political power it’s unparalleled, but also in the way it continues to raise concerns about the way we exploit animals and their conditions. In the end it’s a pessimistic novel but it’s ironic as well that by turning Stalin and Trotsky into animals, Orwell actually succeeds in making them more human.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Of all of Hemingway’s works it’s The Old Man and the Sea that I’ve always related to the most. It’s exquisitely written and such a simple idea, a battle of wills between an old man and a marlin… yet it’s so much more than that. It represents the maturity of Hemingway and his writing; how rather than have Sargasso return victorious as a young Hemingway might have written, instead he returns with no more than a skeleton. It’s a lesson about life and courage and I’ve learned more about writing from Hemingway than any writer.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Like Childhood, The Left Hand of Darkness was one of the first SF books I read. The story revolves around Genly as he tries to convince the inhabitants of Winter to join the Ekumen, but it’s really about gender and friendship. The Gethenians are hermaphroditic and the friendship between Genly and Estraven forms the heart of the novel. Darkness was one of the first SF novels to create a world convincingly, with believable characters. It influenced much of my early writing and still does today.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein Stranger had a huge impact in the 1960s, introducing “grok” to the English language. It follows Mike Smith, who is raised by Martians after a failed mission to Mars. When he returns to Earth and learns about humans, Mike begins to spread his Martian philosophy, forming his own church, causing others to begin to see him as dangerous. Stranger is a brilliant idea-driven novel and one of the few SF novels that’s genuinely literate; reading it is like getting a high of ideas and the scope of the novel is breathtaking. It’s the kind of novel I’d love to write one day.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
I’ve always enjoyed old myths and my favourite myth is the legend of King Arthur. When I first read White’s version what struck me about it was the tone; it starts playfully but by the end it’s mirthless. Yet that’s what makes it so strong. White uses the legend as an allegory for World War II, filling it with the realities of war and an examination of communism and socialism. It’s as much about human nature as chivalry, Arthur struggling to find a philosophy that fits his (and our) world. It’s a sad, beautiful novel, one I reread regularly.
Technology is a wonderful thing. In many ways it’s why we enjoy a high level of comfort in our lives, improving our working and living conditions. But do you think our reliance on technology goes too far? Or is technology merely a tool for social development?
As a writer I’ve explored the moral and ethical use of technology quite heavily in my work but I’ve always had a favourable view of technology. However a recent experience has made me question that. I was shopping the other day, getting a couple of DVDs, and I was thrilled when I saw they were on sale; buy two and get 20% off the second. Perfect! So I grabbed both and queued up.
The woman who served me took the DVDs; the first one was fine but the second scanned up at full price. She didn’t know it was on sale, so I told her it was 20% off and she scanned it again but it was still the same price. She started to do it manually but said she didn’t have a calculator, so she didn’t know the price.
I was stunned. First, how can you work there and not know what’s on sale? But even worse – didn’t have a calculator? It was 20% off $30, hardly rocket science. Do we rely on calculators that much? Finally she fixed it and I paid for them and left.
I know it’s just a small thing but I can’t help but think that it’s symbolic of a larger problem. Just because technology is there and makes something easier doesn’t mean we should rely on it so much that we can’t think for ourselves. What happens when the technology fails? In April this year the London Stock Exchange was closed for 8 hours when a glitch shut down its system. They lost millions of pounds and all they could do was sit and watch. Should any piece of technology be so important that we can’t function without it for 8 hours?
It’s not just the way we use technology, though, but the way people obsess over it. Have you noticed how people can’t live without their mobile phones? If they’re not talking then they’re checking for a message that wasn’t there two minutes ago. Can’t we be out of touch for even a few minutes? And that’s not even mentioning the hype surrounding the iPhone. Or the Kindle. I don’t understand the fuss about the Kindle. I like ebooks but I can’t justify the price of a reader and I’m sure long-term I’d miss the touch and feel of real paper.
My point is that technology seems to have become more of a convenience than a tool. Let me ask you this. If civilisation were to fall tomorrow, could you survive without technology? How would you cook without electricity? How would you get clean water and travel without working transport? How would you stay warm? How would you protect your family and teach your children?
I’m not sure I could survive in that world; I doubt most people could. The civilisation that survived would be very different… but isn’t that the same argument pessimists have used against change since the beginning of time? Weren’t there doubts that other inventions would destroy society and take away our humanity just as people talk about computers and the net now?
I guess I’m conflicted. While I do feel that we’re starting to lose ourselves, I am also a big fan of the potential of technology. I have an extreme sensitivity to noise and being outside is like torture when I’m not feeling well. But a few years ago I found a pair of earphones that use sound isolating technology to block noise and they’ve been a godsend. So I know firsthand what technology can do for someone’s life.
If you think about it, the advances in technology (particularly recently) have been astonishing. Technology has brought us DVDs and iPods, microwaves and cameras. It’s taken us to the Moon, brought us images from Mars. And then there’s medicine. It’s not just the instruments and techniques but the way medical science has advanced. We’ve cured diseases, mapped the human genome; our quality of life is better than any generation’s and we live longer than ever before. And people who never believed they could have children now can. Looking at technology that way, how can anyone deny its impact?
And that’s not even touching on cyberspace. There are a lot of bad things about the net – porn, viruses, spam – but its benefits are far greater. While the net is primarily an information resource, its true power lies in that it connects people in ways we’ve never seen before. Previous inventions have brought us closer together (trains linked cities, planes linked nations) but the internet is the world’s first global community. The net is the future and that’s the real power of technology, to show the way forward.
But even in moving forward it’s still important to hold on to our values. Some advancements make me feel uncomfortable: gene therapy makes my skin crawl and I find the developments in artificial intelligence, while impressive, ethically troubling. Are we ready to create life? Like many people I’m also worried that our social skills are deteriorating. I’ve heard of people texting each other when they’re in the same room instead of speaking – and then there’s the Euricase, which allows you to propose to your partner without even being in the room.
So I guess when people say that we’re losing ourselves to technology, I agree to some extent. But I see the benefits as well and I don’t see why there can’t be a balance. If we can respect our past but embrace the future at the same time, I don’t see why we should ever lose who we are.
That’s what I try to do. I think I’ve found a balance and I’m not afraid of an iPod or an ebook; I just try to buy a CD and go to the library as well. I send emails and texts, but I don’t forget to say hi to my neighbours and turn off my phone. If we can do that then I don’t think we have anything to worry about.