Patriot Day

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

I am writing this on Patriot Day, 2012. Not Patriots’ Day, which commemorates the start of the American Revolution, but Patriot Day, September 11, which commemorates what we all know. Sometimes I wonder if the history of the American Republic could be written as the loss of that s. We have become singular. I have, anyway. This morning, as usual, I am alone in my studio apartment in New Haven, taking advantage of a couple of waking hours before my shift at Infinite Copy begins. It’s funny: when I started working there in the winter of 2006 (I wasn’t a manager then, just a clerk), I thought of underemployment as my special fate, the way Oedipus has to blind himself and Orestes has to go around in a cloud of flies. I had fucked up my life, and Infinite Copy was my reward. When they promoted me to manager six months later I did not feel that my curse had lifted. I was just getting deeper into being fucked up.

But time changes things; it turns things around so you can see the sides of them that were hidden from you at first. With the slide of the US economy into recession circa 2008, my decision to work at Infinite Copy began to seem almost smart. Lawyers were being laid off, programmers were canned, brokers went broke. Even Bleak College, which, with its moats and turrets, had seemed to exist outside of economics and possibly even outside of time, lost a quarter of its endowment and quietly stopped filling vacant jobs. People came to Infinite Copy to print their resumes, and not a few of them asked if we were hiring. They had been sales directors, marketing consultants, mortgage specialists, insurance agents, architects, proofreaders, economists, ecologists, agents and representatives of all kinds; they had enough skills between them to replicate seventy percent of the American economy on some other planet, if only we could get them to a planet hospitable to that kind of thing. Now they were all looking for work. And there I was in my green apron: somehow I had stumbled into what seemed like the last safe job in America.

Patriot Day. Please excuse me if I sidestep the rhetoric that surrounds the destruction of the Twin Towers, a cloud of nonsense even more toxic than the smoke that rose from the towers themselves. I don’t know if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, a coast-dweller or a denizen of flyover country; I don’t know how you feel about America and honestly I don’t care. My aunt Celeste died eleven years ago today, almost to the hour. If she had not died, Luminous Airplanes would not exist, at least not in this form. (In fact, if Celeste hadn’t died, I would have gone to Turkey to see Yesim, and my life would be completely different, but that’s another story.) And what I thought I would tell you right away when I sat down to write this morning, is that I have been thinking about what to put at the beginning of Luminous Airplanes, and it occurs to me that maybe the best way to introduce it is to say, it’s the story of me trying to make sense of this new Celesteless world.

Celeste’s story is where I want Luminous Airplanes to begin, although it’s not by any means where I started writing, and in fact Celeste’s story remains one of the least developed parts of the project, which means that, at least for a while, you, the reader, are going to have a lopsided experience: the front door leads only a little way into the house, and all the rooms are off the side passages. Not just because Celeste’s death was, for me, the beginning of the steep downward slide which didn’t end, if it has ended, until I came to New Haven, but also, and maybe more importantly, because what I am making here in Luminous Airplanes is a memorial. Yes, I know, it’s not the most exciting thing for you to anticipate, walking the passages of some gigantic tomb, but for me it’s essential. I am plagued by Celeste’s spirit, which, to be honest, plagued me even when she was alive: Celeste was a difficult person. I want my aunt to live here so she’ll stop talking in my head. And it’s not only Celeste. I have plenty of space at my disposal, more space than I could fill in my lifetime even if I wrote every day and didn’t rewrite everything. Enough space to bring everyone I knew to life here, and you may think that’s a stupid goal, or an unrealistic goal, but to me, at this point, it’s the only goal worth working towards, because, if I can do it, I will feel like I have finally saved something as opposed to just fucking up. Also, it’s nice, while I am working, I feel less alone.

It’s 9:05: I am late for my shift. Before I go, though, there are two things I want to mention. One is that under strange, implausible circumstances, Luminous Airplanes has become a book. You don’t have to read the book before you explore the hypertext (or “immersive text,” as my editor insists I call it) but reading the book will not spoil the immersive text either. I leave the choice to you, but if you haven’t read the book, you should probably start here. The other thing I should say at the outset is that it’s easy to get lost in Luminous Airplanes, even now that I have made a map. I encourage you to get lost. If you become lost enough, if you follow my branching stories until the branches are so thin they’ll hardly hold your weight, and you find yourself swaying out at the precarious end of something, wondering how you got there and how you will ever find your way back, if you loop so many times you don’t remember what it was like to go in a straight line, then you will know what it is like to be me, stuck in this fractured world which I am somehow still trying to understand. That’s it. I’m out the door.

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