Abstract (need to expand/rework)
“Conversations with My Father” is a highly personal and creative endeavor which explores the ways in which memory and mode impact the construction of meaning, the development of truth, and the discovery of one’s self. The project is centered around a series of fictional conversations with my father that begin on or around his death on September 11, 2001. These interactions evolve via various modes of communication (handwritten letters, emails, text messages, etc.) over time up to and even past the present day. The development of my father’s character, the reimagining of events, and the layering of 9/11 artifacts provide insight into the ways the mind reconstructs the past and, perhaps, how it influences one’s present and future self. It adds to the ongoing discussion surrounding post 9/11 representations and serves as a chronicling of the experiences of a victim’s family member.
Where were you on 9/11? We still live in a time when nearly everyone has an answer to that question. “Writers are treating 9/11 in increasingly imaginative ways; however, this is where time does matter. The historical moment is not yet “over,” temporally or psychologically. The international consequences of that day continue to unfold, migrate, deepen, and shift. The ground is still settling, and with it, our narratives” (Frost 2010). We all have a story to tell about that day, but what about the days that followed? The weeks? The months? The years? How long did the impact follow you around? What about today? How often do you think about the events of September 11, 2001? Do you have daily reminders?
I arrived at my office in Chelsea on time, right around 9:00 AM. My express bus commute had been uneventful. Typical. Routine. As I exited the elevator onto the 12-floor loft of the small PR firm where I worked, I could hear low murmurs of voices from various corners of the room. Some were in groups gathered around their computer screens. I could see people out on the fire escape. World Trade Center. Plane. Hit. It only took me a second to put the words in the correct order in my mind. “No. My father works there,” I blurted. I ran outside, pushing past the others. Right around the same time that my mind was able to register what I was seeing, the second plane hit.
Confusion and fear took over. My legs collapsed and I fell slowly to the floor. It was hard to breathe. I don’t remember anyone saying anything to me. It was chaos. A hot wave of anxiety flushed over my entire body. I called my mother. Her voice was piercing and filled with terror. In between her shrieks and cries I could hear “He’s OK….Owen talked…to him…in his office….he was gonna leave.” I remember saying Yes and OK over and over again as I cried and nodded in understanding of what she was saying. “I have to go, Laura, in case he calls.”
When I watched the twin towers collapse, I was only thinking one thing: Is my father still alive? In that moment, I told myself “yes.” At the time, there was no concrete evidence to prove otherwise. That would not come until many months later. While thousands of people in lower Manhattan were running away, I was running towards the site of impact. In a way, I feel like I’ve been running ever since. Trying to find my father, perhaps. Trying to find myself? Trying to piece together the fragments that remained. While the world struggled to make sense of the events that were unfolding, I was struggling to come to terms with the possibility that he did not survive. I clung to the hope that he had somehow managed to escape for as long as I could. Then, one day, I allowed myself to let go. I allowed myself to accept the reality of the situation.
He died in those towers.
I would never know how or when, but one day in early October 2001, I finally acknowledged the fact that my father had died on September 11, 2001. That same night, I had a dream or a dream-like conversation with him. In that conversation, he told me about how wonderful heaven was and how much he missed my mom and that he wouldn’t be “coming back to visit me” anytime soon. It was very real for me. I could see his face and hear his voice perfectly. I’m not a big believer in the supernatural. I don’t look back on this experience as an encounter with my father’s spirit but, rather, I see it as a genuine representation of my mind’s image of my father. My project, “Conversations with My Father,” was inspired by that experience and is, in a way, an extension of the relationship that was cut short. It’s an exploration of what was, what might have been, and what never could be. It attempts to make sense, create meaning, and discover the truth about what happened that day and what has been happening ever since.
There has been much written about the emerging pool of post-9/11 literature. Representations ranging from comics and poetry to novels and plays have been dissected and reflected upon. Common threads in these analyses include the push-pull tension between personal and historical portrayals, the struggle in creating meaning and understanding around an event with such magnitude, and the emergence of hybrid genres in an attempt to effectively capture the jarring reality of the attacks.
What does it mean to have witnesses and to recall an event that felt incommensurable, inaccessible, and incomprehensible? Is it possible to speak in a voice that exceeds the personal, to use a public voice, to launch a political critique in literature? What form can such literature take, negotiating as it must between the event itself and the dictates of genre, tradition, and the impulse to find an audience? How, in brief, does literature after 9/11 represent the possibility of witness, the political or public sphere, and its own literary status? (Keniston & Quinn, 2008)
Sixteen years after the attacks, this continues to be a thriving area of inquiry. My project, which may be partly described as an epistolary memoir layered with fictional exchanges and historical artifacts, adds to this discussion by examining how the events of 9/11 are remembered by those personally impacted.
The notion of a struggle within the literary community to effectively and appropriately portray the events and aftermath of 9/11 is not unsubstantiated. Randall asserts, “…there is a developing suggestion that fictional realism might not be the most efficacious or suitable genre and that more hybrid forms – the graphic novel, the essay/memoir, the film-poem, conceptual art – are better suited to represent the attacks” (2011). For this reason, the employment of a nonconventional hybrid form situates my project alongside widely-known works that push the boundaries of genre in pursuit of accurately representing 9/11. “Literature…has only recently begun to enter the fields of tension between documentary and fictional, objective and sympathetic, and visual and textual modes of representation” (Dawes 2007).
On September 11, 2001, the lines between truth and fiction became blurred (Keeble 2014). I was forced, like many, to question my entire belief system. It has become commonly accepted to acknowledge the events of 9/11 as some of the most impactful in our nation’s history. My connection to this transformative moment in history has given me a unique vantage point from which to share my story. My personal search for meaning, truth, and self plays out alongside the nation’s ongoing quest for sense in the senseless. Keniston and Quinn support this idea in Literature After 9/11 with, “…literary works reframe and focus the meaning of 9/11 by employing representational strategies that emphasize the desire for (and construction of) meaning, and that dramatize the continuing resonance of 9/11 in the collective life of the United States and beyond” (2008).
How will the world remember the events of 9/11 long after all eyewitnesses have passed? How will victim’s family members share their stories with future generations? How might reimagining these events (and my father) aid in the creation of meaning and understanding? What insights, into my own personal development, might be gleaned from this process? (cite) Like the events of 9/11, my project blurs the lines between the real and imagined by leaving unanswered questions for the reader. “Real” letters, poems, photographs and other 9/11-related artifacts are intertwined with fictional dialogue between me and my father. These exchanges occur via handwritten letters, emails, text messages and social media posts. They are crafted with the intention of both remembering the events of my personal experience pre and post 9/11 and reimagining my father as he was and as he might be today. As an added layer of inquiry, years of future communication is created in an attempt to imagine how my thoughts and ideas might further evolve. Lastly, a flexible format allows for experimentation with the piece. When read in reverse chronological order, for example, the reader is, once again, forced to come to conclusions about what is real and what is fictitious. (cite?) Here, questions related to effectiveness and impact are examined.
Thesis Outline- Draft
Title Page (Per Kean template)
Abstract (working draft above)
Introduction (draft above)
- post-9/11 literature
- the epistolary form
- genre blending
- grief/loss writing
- memoir/life writing
- mixed-media literature (?)
- my creative process
- autoethnography narratives
The Creative Project (outline of “chapters” below)
Reflective Analysis (of creative and research process)
- the evolution of my project, as a whole
- facebook experimentation
- writing hand-written letters versus electronic communication
- writing from my father’s perspective / his evolution in my mind
- searching through old emails/ artifacts
- talking with other family members
- watching home videos
- personal impact (bringing up memories, watching 9/11 footage)
Annotated Bibliography (working draft below)
**Potential letters with dad…..(sections and/or chapters TBD)
“Hey Lau, wanna catch a ride with me?” From behind the closed door, his voice was muffled. I opened the door that led downstairs and yelled back without looking “Nah, I’m good.” “OK,” was the reply. His voice was clearer now and from his projection, I could tell he was standing at the bottom of the stairwell facing up. But I was running late as it was and a ride to the ferry wasn’t in the cards for me today. It was fashion week in New York City and I was excited to be working behind the scenes for one of our clients. I was in wearing the stereotypical head to toe backstage attire. A Banana Republic a-line leather skirt, black heels, and a sleek turtleneck- all still part of my wardrobe rotation today. I did a little something funky with my hair that day. It was crimped from wearing braids to bed the night before. Just the right amount of edge, I thought, for a budding PR assistant. A smoky black eye completed the ensemble. Off to the express bus I headed…..
Section 1: The events of 9/11 (layered with artifacts, mix of letters, emails- “real” and “fake”)
- Where I was
- The first weeks
- Memorial mass
- How did he die
- Meeting with his co-workers
- The first anniversary (9-11-02)
- How much he’s worth- victim’s compensation fund
- Firefighter strife
- Finding his remains
- Funeral at last
- Second anniversary (9-11-03)
- Mom to NJ
- Excavating his body (one more time)
- Third anniversary (9-11-04)
- 4th anniversary (9-11-05)
- 5th anniversary (9-11-06)
- 6th anniversary (9-11-07)
- 7th anniversary (9-11-08)
- 8th anniversary (9-11-09)
- 9th anniversary (9-11-10)
- 10th anniversary (9-11-11)
- Glamour Magazine article
- 11th anniversary (9-11-12)
- 12th anniversary (9-11-13)
- 13th anniversary (9-11-14)
- 14th anniversary (9-11-15)
- 15th anniversary (9-11-16)
- 16th anniversary (9-11-17)
Time passes/non 9-11 related: (layered with “real” email from that time?) (mix of text messages, emails, facebook posts and artifacts- newspaper clips, etc.)
- New job (Interpublic) (2001?)
- Apt in the city (2001)
- Getting married (12-31-02)
- First house (2002)
- Justice at last! (my son is born) (9-14-03)
- New job (Merck 2004)
- Marriage counseling (2004)
- Autumn comes (daughter) (11-2-05)
- Back to school (teaching degree) (2005)
- New house (2005)
- Hired as a teacher (2007)
- Starting grad school (2015)
- Beginning my thesis (2017)
- Ending my thesis (May 2018-the last letter)
- 17th anniversary (9-11-18)
- 18th anniversary (9-11-19)
- 19th anniversary (9-11-20)
- 20th anniversary (9-11-21)
- 21st anniversary (9-11-22)
- 22nd anniversary (9-11-23)
- 23rd anniversary (9-11-24)
- 24th anniversary (9-11-25)
- 25th anniversary (9-11-26)
- 26th anniversary (9-11-27)
- 27th anniversary (9-11-28)
- 28th anniversary (9-11-29)
- 29th anniversary (9-11-30)
- 30th anniversary (9-11-31)
- My 55th birthday – I am 55 years old- the age he was when he died
Annotated Bibliography – Draft
Armstrong, Luanne Aileen. “The Ecology of Identity : Memoir and the Construction of Narrative.” University of British Columbia, 2006. https://doi.org/10.14288/1.0055258.
This doctoral thesis is a great example of an autoethnographic process used in reflection on her memoir. It is useful as a reference point for performing my own reflective practice and also offers insight into personal-narrative writing theories in general. This reading serves to informs my methodology decisions and practice.
Bradley, DeMethra LaSha, and Robert Nash. MeSearch and ReSearch: A Guide for Writing Scholarly Personal Narrative Manuscripts. IAP, 2011.
This book reads like a how-to for scholars, such as myself, who are looking for a simple way to execute autoethnographic-like research methods. This is useful for me as it gives insight into the process as it relates to my creative project.
Brown, Megan. American Autobiography After 9/11. University of Wisconsin Pres, 2017.
Brown looks at recent memoirs and considers the reasons why this genre has been so popular in recent years. This offers me insight into the reason for my personal need to share my story.
Couser, G. Thomas. “Genre Matters: Form, Force, and Filiation.” Life Writing 2, no. 2 (January 1, 2005): 139–56. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408340308518293.
This journal article talks about the thinning lines among various genres of “life writing.” It discusses the modern debates over what constitutes fiction versus nonfiction writing and how memory and history interplay in telling one’s stories. I am interested in gaining a better understanding about where my unique genre sits, relative to current works.
Däwes, Birgit. “On Contested Ground (Zero): Literature and the Transnational Challenge of Remembering 9/11.” Amerikastudien / American Studies 52, no. 4 (2007): 517–43.
This paper explores the response to 9/11 from a global perspective. It compares literature from international authors.
Denzin, Norman K. Interpretive Autoethnography. SAGE Publications, 2013.
Denzin explores and demonstrates, through his own experiences, the process of using one’s life story as an autoethnographic research method. This offers me a framework with with to work my reflection and evaluation.
Foer, By Jonathan Safran. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Paperback) – Common. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN, 2011.
Foer’s 9/11-related novel provides inspiration for my creative project through its unique textual structure and storytelling technique.
Frost, Laura. “Afterwords.” Bookforum.com. (Dec-Jan 2010).
As a New Yorker who witnessed 9/11, Frost’s powerful and succinct essay offers some insightful pondering on the course of 9/11 literature and asserts that there is still much more to be written about in regards to 9/11. Her piece serves to provide a broad overview of such literature and substantiates the call for my creative project.
Gheorghiu, Oana. “The E-Pistolary Novel: Print Screens of Media-Driven Thoughts in David Llewellyn’s ‘Eleven.’” SSRN Scholarly Paper. Rochester, NY: Social Science Research Network, May 16, 2014. https://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=2543477.
Jensen, Meg. “Getting to Know Me in Theory and Practice: Negotiated Truth and Mourning in Autobiographically Based Fiction (J. G. Ballard, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Jack Kerouac, Louisa May Alcott and Me).” Literature Compass 8, no. 12 (December 1, 2011): 941–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-4113.2011.00850.x.
Kaplan, E. Ann. Trauma Culture: The Politics of Terror and Loss in Media and Literature. Rutgers University Press, 2005. https://muse.jhu.edu/book/16070.
Kaplan takes a psychological approach to the study of a variety of film and books related to major traumatic events in history (the Holocaust, WWII, etc.). The author also offers a personal response to the events of 9/11 in light of earlier trauma as a grounding for the book. It explores the connections between the personal and collective response to trauma and what their representations in media and literature mean. The book’s discussion about how one’s personal reaction (to trauma) is influenced by the nature of the traumatic event as well as society’s reaction is of particular interest to me as I reflect upon my response to the events of 9/11 and how it has been (and still is) portrayed by others.
Keeble, Arin. The 9/11 Novel: Trauma, Politics and Identity. McFarland, 2014.
This book focuses exclusively on the analysis of 9/11 novels. It seeks to identify commonalities in the ways they represent this traumatic event and question what that means for our society, as a whole. This is helpful for me as I seek to understand the reason behind (and develop) my own stylistic and metaphorical choices in the composition of my creative work.
Keniston, Ann, and Jeanne Follansbee Quinn, eds. Literature after 9/11. 1 edition. New York, NY: Routledge, 2008.
Keniston & Quinn provide an analytical look at post-9/11 literature through various lenses including political, cultural, historical, narrative, and genre contexts in order to establish a means by which to categorize and sort the various works that have been produced since the attacks. They use the nature and structure of the works themselves to guide the analytical process in an effort to make sense each work’s intended and realized purposes. The book situates my creative project at the center of the discussion surrounding the search for meaning and understanding.
LaCapra, Dominick. Writing History, Writing Trauma. JHU Press, 2014.
This work explores the social, political, and cultural implications of trauma through (mainly) Holocaust-related accounts, both personal and literary. This is helpful for me as I consider how 9/11 has impacted the world around me relative other to other historical events.
“Mixed-Media Literature.” Nathan Holic (blog), December 9, 2010. https://nathanholic.com/reading-list/in-search-of-the-great-millennial-novel/characteristics-of-millennial-fiction/mixed-media-literature/.
This writer’s blog is a useful reference tool which explores various topics including narrative voice, hybrid narratives, and graphic novels, among other related topics. It also provides interesting links to other potential reference websites, books and creative works.
“Narrative Innovation in 9/11 Fiction | Brill.” Accessed December 20, 2017. http://www.brill.com/products/book/narrative-innovation-911-fiction.
This recent book acknowledges the numerous creative liberties in much of 9/11 literature. It considers how these breaks from the norm provide authors and readers a means by which to translate such powerful events and the aftermath.
Randall, Martin. 9/11 and the Literature of Terror. Edinburgh University Press, 2011. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3366/j.ctt1r2089.
This book gives a timely retrospective look at the ways in which 9/11 has been represented in the first ten years since the attacks by analyzing poetry, plays, film, fiction, and nonfiction works. It focuses on defining how 9/11 portrayals have evolved over time and explores the distinctions seen between “eyewitness” and “general viewer” accounts. Lastly, the book makes note of the surprising “literary success” of the 9/11 Commission report, thus arguing the potential for hybrid works to best represent the attacks. As a relatively recent publication, 9/11 and the Literature of Terror provides evidence for the relevance of my creative project as a hybrid memoir/fiction work.
VERSLUYS, KRISTIAAN. Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel. Columbia University Press, 2009. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/vers14936.
Versluys investigates a collection of 9/11 novels and their ability to capture unique perspectives relative to the events of 9/11. It concludes with an assertion that literature related to 9-11 and other terrorist attacks around the world will continue to develop in the coming years and with it there will be an increased focus on combining storytelling with historical records. This book justifies the validity of the chosen format for my creative work.
Thesis blog: https://jackofalltradesmasterofoneblog.wordpress.com