Sep 12 2011

My system

Sunday, at church, my pastor talked about systems—marriages, families, schools, nations—and how it is impossible to untangle the individual from their respective systems.  He went on to relate this to church-y stuff and how we integrate ourselves into a narrative of love post 9/11, but his initial definition of systems and plausibility structures left me wondering what narratives am I in?  How did 9/11 shape my plausibility structures?

I was 14, just starting ninth grade at new school in a new city in a new state.  I’d moved from a fairly poor Catholic school in south Kansas City, Missouri across state lines to a public school in the much better-off Johnson County, Kansas.  I was going to school with kids better-dressed and better-looking and better-everything than me.  I lived in a trailer park and had read Jane Eyre five times.  My worldview had been shaped by simultaneously by the prosperous Clinton Presidency and living in a part of town where people were hamstrung at the shopping mall.

Then 9/11 happened, and it was a giant stone thrown into a giant pool with giant ripples.  Everything changed.  At 14, my new world demanded I think about foreign policy and inter-religious interactions and the ramifications of cultural imperialism, which are all things few ninth-graders are equipped to handle with so little preparation.  My new world demanded that I adopt a me vs. other, us vs. them perspective.  And so I did for a while, until I got older and found that perspective didn’t seem right any more.

But even with all the maturing and trying to stretch myself into a softer, there is no them there is only us narrative, I can’t deny that coming of age post 9/11 has impacted my creative work.  My novel begins with the United States crumbling, debt-ridden and weak, to an Eastern power, and with a civil war between the wealthy and the poor.  It begins with people filled with righteous anger making war and it ends with people with righteous anger making war.  It has two main characters who struggle to balance a life of privilege with doing the right thing, and another main character that uses tragedy to feed his ambition.

Would the novel have these things if 9/11 had been like every other day?  If No Child Left Behind and reality television were the most controversial things to happen in the Aughts?  Would this novel even exist?