Sunday, September 11, 2011

Do you remember

this day, ten years ago?

I do.

From our high school librarian running in, panicked, saying that the World Trade Center tower had been hit, to everyone in my tiny school packing into the library to watch the news all day. We watched the second tower get hit. We watched them both fall. We didn't--couldn't--understand. We watched footage of the UA flight 93 crash scene after it went down in that Pennsylvania field, only to later learn of the bravery of those people on board.

On that day, teachers and administrators and students were all equals. We all sat together, without any sense of order, and watched the tragedy unfold before our very eyes. Many people came and went, but I sat in the same chair all day. My friends never moved. We couldn't move. We were transfixed and mortified, horrified for the loss of life. Horrified for those people with family and friends that were lost in the rubble. Horrified at the sights of desperation, of the people jumping from windows, trying to save themselves. It was a jolt of reality, and one that I won't ever forget.

And I remember it all. But what I remember most vividly wasn't on the television that day. Isolated far away in tiny-town Texas, we were all safe. No one had any family or friends in the WTC or aboard those planes.

A couple hours into the tragedy, the room was particularly quiet. Many students had been picked up by their parents and taken home, and so the number crammed into our modest library was decreased.

For some reason, I glanced around the room. And my heart stopped beating. There, sitting near the back, was my math teacher. A former United States Marine, survivor of multiple tours in many war-torn places of the world. Brave recipient of a Purple Heart, along with several other decorations. A great teacher and person.

And father to a son working in the Pentagon.

I'll never forget seeing the tears stream down his face. Or the look of abject horror as the news played the reels of the attack again and again. Or the quiet, terse conversation he had with his wife, also a teacher at our school. The pain in their eyes because they couldn't reach their son; the son who had just been promoted to a Pentagon window office.

On this day ten years ago, there was no such thing as far-removed, tiny-town Texas. We were all right there in NYC, the Pennsylvania field, and the Pentagon. Today, we stand together again as one nation bound by tragedy, and we remember.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Appreciation (n)

Hey everyone, hope y'all had wonderful (long) weekends. I was productive...sort of. I've been spreading my attention out between my WIPs, which has resulted in just a little progress on several things, rather than a lot on one. I know that progress is progress, but still.

One thing I've really been working on is outlining my next novel--I plan on having the rough draft of The Painted Queen completed by (at the latest) November, and want to be able to jump right into another mss. So, I've been mentally working out what's next in my head: a paranormal, set in Texas, during the worst drought of the century.

Coincidentally (and sadly), I've had a lot of inspiration as of late.

As many of you know, Texas is on fire. We haven't had rain in months. Growing up in an rural and agricultural setting really sensitizes you to the weather; everyone from ages 12 to 102 knows that we're in a terrible situation here. At home the temperature has been over 100 degrees for more than 20 days in a row, all with no measurable precipitation. My home area is under water rationing, and there's talk that the wells are actually drying up because there isn't enough water cycling through the environment to replenish groundwater sources. The biologist in me knows it's true; the agriculturalist in me knows it's only going to get worse.

People are losing their livelihoods one failed crop at a time. In my area, the soil is better suited to raising livestock than grains or fibers, but some people do still scratch out a living directly from the ground. But cotton didn't produce this year, unless one could afford to irrigate, which most people can't do. I took a walk across my parents' hay field while I was home, and with each step in what is normally thick, retina-searing green Bermuda grass, puffs of dust rose. What little is left of the grass is dead, a sickly yellow husk of cellulose. The livestock looks terrible. Gone are the days of additional feeding to put that extra sheen in the coats of your cattle. Now you're taking out loans, paying for feed just to keep everything alive. If you can't do that, you sell low, knowing that you'll take out another loan to buy them back in a few months when--if--it ever rains again.

Basically, everything and everyone is baking. In a time when the east coast is drowning, we're roasting.

And now, to top it off, we're on fire. When the whole world is a tinder box, one little spark is all it takes to turn 16,000 acres into a barren wasteland. The winds from hurricane (or is it tropical storm?) Lee brought a relief from the heat, but now are only fanning the flames higher. Mandatory evacuations are underway. People are losing their lands, their homes, and their lives.

While everyone else is running away from the fire, our local firefighters are running into it. Helicopters are hauling in water, but there are still hundreds of people on the ground, physically putting out the flames or digging trenches to save what little is left. Everyone is at risk. Under-equipped volunteer firefighters are rushing into the smoke, trying their damndest to save everything--to save something.

It takes a special kind of person to do that.

This post isn't looking for pity. It isn't about complaining or whining. Even though this is the worst drought I've ever seen, I know we'll pull through it. We always do. What this post is about is appreciation. Appreciation for the people in the service industry who run toward the fire when everyone else is running away. It's for the families of those firefighters who wonder if their wife/husband/mom/dad/daughter/son will come home tonight, tomorrow, next week. It's for the people who collect food to feed those working 18 hour days in the smoke and ash. It's for the people who open their homes to the homeless, who lend washing machines, a change of clothes, blankets, or beds. For those who raise funds to cover random expenses or to buy a meal for someone who has lost everything. For those businesses that put out the mason jars at the front counters--even spare change helps.

In the larger scheme, my WIPs mean nothing.  The fact that I have the electricity to power my laptop and a place to stay with a roof over my head is more important. The fact that my family and friends are out of harm's way is the most important.

This post is about appreciating what you have, because you never know when it might be taken from you.

I know I need to work on that. Do you?

Found on facebook--that's the Austin, Texas skyline. Taken by Austin photographer Deanna Roy

Taken around Bastrop, Texas. Over 200 hundred homes have been destroyed, with many more in imminent danger.