It seems like a lifetime since I wrote that essay. I was newly married to another journalist, living in Oregon, and working as a reporter for The Oregonian. Not surprisingly, a lot has changed since then. I’m still married, with a daughter in middle school. But we live in northern Virginia now, and I am the night local editor at The Washington Post. I also teach journalism part-time at the University of Maryland.
Back then, I remember I had to get approval from The Oregonian’s op-ed editor for the newspaper to run my piece, which I had written in a mad flush of anger and grief. My anger, I’m ashamed to say, came from a particular journalistic wiring: I hated that I wasn’t on the East Coast, covering the attacks directly; the biggest story of my generation was happening and I had to watch it by remote. My grief stemmed from the fact that I couldn’t help the survivors on the ground.
Before I posted my essay from that time on Facebook last week, I read it again, confident that it had held up over time. To my dismay, that wasn’t the case. I found myself wincing at my use of certain words and phrases, and grimacing at the sweeping statements I made back then that now seem ponderous. So, with the hindsight of 20 more years of journalistic wisdom, I decided to edit the Lisa Grace Lednicer of 20 years ago.
Annotation: Lednicer’s comments of her piece are in red. To read the essay without annotations, hit the HIDE ANNOTATIONS button in the right-hand menu of your computer screen or at the top of your mobile device. We strongly encourage you to read the essay both with and without the annotations.
By Lisa Grace Lednicer
September 2001 ~ The Oregonian (annotated September 2021)The stream of human misery flows across my television, an endless feedback loop ( “an endless feedback loop” feels clichéd of shock and devastation. Huddled This makes it sound as if I was huddled under the covers, whimpering, which was not the case. 3,000 miles away in Salem, I try to wrap my mind around the violence that has shattered my home and terrified my loved ones. This wasn’t exactly accurate. “Shattered my home” sounds as if New Jersey, where I grew up, was destroyed, which it was not. (I teach my journalism students at the University of Maryland to keep ledes to no more than 30 words; ideally, under that, except in rare circumstances. This is 41 words, and it feels too long. There is just too much tinsel on the tree here.)
I grew up in northern New Jersey, but New York always felt like home. I spent weekends biking in Central Park and riding the subways, a treat for a kid stranded in a suburb without buses or trains. There were plenty of buses in Hackensack, N.J., where I grew up, as well as ways to easily get into the city. This line makes it sound as if I grew up in a rural part of New Jersey, which I did not. Not sure why I included it.
I sneaked into Greenwich Village, prowled the streets of lower Manhattan, walked the observation deck of the Twin Towers. I saw those towers every morning from my parents’ living-room window. On plane trips back East, they were the first glimpse of home, a reassuring whisper I’d change “a reassuring whisper” to “reassuring me.” A “reassuring whisper” sounds too self-consciously writer-ly. Also, buildings don’t whisper. that I could still claim New York for my own, if I wished. This phrase is vague. What does “claim New York for my own” mean? Better: “… that I was still, at least in spirit, a New Yorker.”
And now, terrorists have driven a jumbo jet through my memories. This metaphor feels cringe-y now. Better: “and now, terrorists have shattered my certainty that New York would always remain the same, no matter how far away I lived” or some such.
I want to race back and hug my parents, stare at the wreckage, feel the grit-studded air brush my cheeks. I want to join my sister as she moves from shelter to shelter, offering food and clothing — or just a shoulder for someone’s tears.
We are a restless people, we Americans: Always impatient for a change of scenery, we seem ever-willing to pick up our lives and deposit ourselves in a new city, a fancier house “fancier house” feels like a fusty phrase to me. Better: “a nicer apartment” , a different weather pattern. I thought at the time that “a different weather pattern” was a unique way of using climate to describe different locations across the United States, but now it just reads oddly. In fact, the whole graf above feels pompous and unnecessary.
So it has been with me. “So it has been with me” drags down this graf. I left home at 18 and traded my memories of Broadway shows and museum outings for the flatlands of Illinois, “flatlands” doesn’t really say anything. Maybe: “the plains”? , the cypress canopies of Florida and the chest-freezing winters of Minnesota. This graf and the next one should be combined for better flow.
Wherever I moved, I became an expert at scouting for bakeries and coffee shops, smug in my belief that I’d discovered the real America. New York, for all its grandiosity “grandiosity” isn’t quite the right word to use here. Better: “New York, for all its bravado/bluster/bombast” , was so . . . parochial. And despite what my Brooklynite sister said, it didn’t really matter that I hadn’t read last week’s Village Voice. This column was written for an Oregon audience, so I’m not sure that readers would know the significance of this publication.
Four years ago I moved to Salem at the gentle urging of my husband, I’d drop “gentle.” “Urging” means to advocate for something strongly, so how can you “gently urge” someone? Was my husband being gentle about talking me into moving to Salem, or did he urge me to? determined to sell me on the Pacific Northwest.
I assumed the trappings of an Oregonian: I bought a tent. Signed my letters “Love, from the 45th parallel.” Booked a trip this summer to Eastern Oregon, where I squinted at the sky through the pine trees and thought, “Maybe I’ll stay here for good.” I raved about the blackberries in August and the crisp winter evenings, bragging to my parents that I could see the Milky Way — the Milky Way! — from my backyard. This graf has just enough to make it interesting. Anything more would be overload.
I stopped trying to talk them out of moving here. This is confusing; who is “them” referring to? There are too many words between “my parents” and “the Milky Way” for readers to know. And, anyway, it’s unneeded. Better to jump right from the Milky Way to the Twin Towers collapsing. That jarring contrast – a peaceful nighttime scene with the horror of the towers falling – is more effective when it’s not separated by a wimpy sentence.
I feel isolated, an expatriate on American soil. Another ponderous sentence. C’mon, Lisa, knock it off. I have spent the days since Tuesday morning glued to the radio and weeping, unaccountably, whenever I hear a New York accent. Those staccato sounds “staccato” isn’t the right word. Better to say what that accent sounds like: “…whenever I hear a New York accent, with its mangled vowels and left-off “rs” in words like “horror.” are oddly comforting in Oregon, a state with no distinguishing accent of its own. I should have tried harder to come up with a description of what Oregonians sound like when they talk.
One of the most poignant scenes, my father tells me, is the sight of all the cars at the commuter parking lots, cars that will never be picked up because their owners have perished. I really like this scene.
“You look down at the tip of Manhattan, you don’t see the World Trade Center and it really tears your heart out,” he said. “You really have to live here to fully appreciate it.” Great quote from my dad; I was lucky he spoke so descriptively.
I used to get annoyed when he’d say that, Should have said “things like that,” for clarity. when my parents loftily asserted that New York had everything. Yeah, I’d counter, but Oregon has perfect summers. Food tastes better here. We have pinot noirs that rival California’s. Snow stays on the mountains, where it belongs. I’m a big believer in the “rule of three,” but I think that four descriptors work in this case.
But now, somehow none of that matters. I can’t bury my memories after all. Wait, who said anything about burying memories? Why would I want to, when I’ve spent the whole essay talking about how much New York means to me? I miss New York — the lights twinkling atop the George Washington Bridge, the oversized pretzels that only taste right This implies that there’s a wrong way for pretzels to taste, when what I really mean to say is “good” as opposed to “bad.” when you buy them from a street vendor. Racing the cab drivers on Saturday night. This makes it sound as if I drag-raced against cab drivers. Better: “Weaving my car through Saturday-night traffic.” ) Snaring a parking space in front of Lincoln Center. S hould have said: “Snaring a RARE parking space in front of Lincoln Center. ”
A year after I moved to Oregon, a state senator told me, only partly in jest, “You may live here all your life, but you’ll never be an Oregonian.” At the time I dismissed that idea as ridiculous, a kind of reverse elitism.
But now I can say: Senator, you were right. I have been, and always will be, a New Yorker.I’m still happy with these last two grafs, so I’d leave them as is.
POSTSCRIPT: After I posted the original essay on Facebook this past Saturday, my dad told me he’d read it. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “Beautiful.”
“It’s funny you mention that,” I said. “I was re-reading it, and I’m not sure it stands the test of time.”
He assured me that it does.
Lisa Grace Lednicer is the night local editor of The Washington Post and an adjunct journalism professor at the University of Maryland.