If you follow me on Twitter, I’ve been griping a bit about the total media saturation of 9/11 programs, memorials, analyses and whatever else. On the radio on Friday, I heard a song that was mixed with a little girl reading a letter to her dead father. I was driving at the time. I had to pull over.
It’s not that I resist any effort to remember that particular day. I can promise I won’t forget. If you show me footage, I get nauseated and sweaty. I remember what 9/11 smelled like, and I’m not exaggerating or attempting to be funny.
I remember the smell of everything burning. I remember the day the ash cloud turned and coated everything. I remember after that when someone set fire to the flag on our porch, and dusty, ash covered Jersey City firefighters who had just come off a shift at what was later called “ground zero” responded to my 911 call to make sure the house was safe and the fire was out. I very clearly remember the captain admonishing, “Watch your goddam language in front of the lady.”
What gets me so angry and tense about this time of year, especially this year, is the sense that I’m being told how to feel. I hate being told how I ought to feel and when I ought to feel it.
I wasn’t going to say anything here about 9/11 – it’s a site about romance novels, after all, not politics. But with readers in so many countries who have faced terrorism like us, from Jakarta to Madrid to Oslo to London and many other places in between, we all know at this point a little piece of how it feels and how it felt. We share that in common.
But I got to thinking, because I’d turned the radio off and I had to do something in the quiet, that we also have romance in common, a positive to balance out the negative we’ve experienced. Each romance novel we read is an invitation to feel. Each romance novel we have in common represents a similar experience of feeling. Part of the goal in writing and reading romance is emotional engagement, empathy and sympathy, perhaps even identification and admiration of the characters. Romances are about emotions – intimate ones. And every time we choose one to read, we’re welcoming that collection of intense emotions into our lives for the time we read that book. We are inviting the experience of feeling each time we open a novel.
And because romances induce emotions and create feelings that are strong and intimate, each book we experience together creates a common emotion. That might be the origin of “good book noise” that I talk about sometimes: the knowledge that when we read that same book, we both felt the same way, had similar reactions, and think in similar fashion about the emotional experience of the story.
Having feelings in common is a powerful thing. One thing I will absolutely never forget about 9/11 is how everyone around me on 9/12 and 9/13 and afterward felt similarly. “How are you?” became a ridiculous question. We knew how we were. We were the opposite of “fine.” But we did so many amazing, generous, caring things at that time. It is so rare that people feel the exact same way, or so closely similar that we know with near certainty that our pain is shared. Now, we all feel so differently about the past ten years and what it has meant, what it has changed. We no longer feel the same way, nor do we share those same identical feelings as we did at that time. There is no one way to determine how we ought to observe, how we ought to remember.
We romance readers seek that same common experience, though, with books and with each other. We know when we meet a fellow reader that we have a wonderful book or a wonderful memory of a story in common. We have a connection through emotional experience. That connection between us is a powerful thing and I’m glad we share it.
I think that says a great deal about what we have in common, all of us here on this site from countries around the world speaking countless different languages. We want to experience the connection of happiness, of knowing that in some places, everything will always be all right.
So while I’m overwhelmed and probably avoiding television, radio, the internet and newspapers as much as I can today to avoid being swallowed by the feelings that those memories bring, I’m also seeking out the other emotions, looking for completion, assurance, peace and celebration. That’s why I read romance. And that’s why I’m so glad you come to read and discuss and celebrate it with me. I know that we have so much in common.
I wish you comforting feelings today.