English Composition II - Dr. Lovell's class

Page 9:  Twenty-Four Questions: An Interview with Alberto Alvaro Rios

[Page 1: On Writing]    [Page 2: On the Writing Process]     [Page 3: On Reading] 
[Page 4: On Creativity and Imagination] [Page 5: On Teaching] [Page 6: On Culture]  
[Page 7: Some General Questions]    [Page 8: On the September 11th Attacks]  
[Page 9: An Essay by Ríos on the September 11th Attacks:"The Night of No Airplanes"
            along with some final comments]

Read the Essay: Alberto Ríos, "The Night of No Airplanes"  

Christina Womack: I loved that essay! I remember my husband and I wandering around in our yard those first several nights after the attack -- something that we normally would do -- and trying so hard to find one single airplane. Even during the day we couldn't see all the streaked clouds, which aren't really clouds at all, but exhaust trails being whipped this way and that by wind.

As panic-stricken as the entire U.S. was during those first weeks, it was amazing to see how quickly we adjusted to the absence of planes and everything else normal that ceased to happen or that changed so completely. It was even more strange to me that when things gradually began to return to "normal" it was alarming to hear a plane fly by. The first time I heard one after the attack, I almost panicked. I remember I was in the car driving in to work and heard a jet liner above me that was flying quite low. Even though it was probably getting ready to land in Highfill [Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport], I thought it was a plane in trouble and was so completely startled I almost ran off the road! 

My generation has never had anything hit home so completely as these recent events. Listening to NPR today on the radio, a commentator was saying how ultra-sensitive everyone has become: radio stations aren't playing songs which would remotely remind someone of the terrorist attack; people aren't speaking figuratively in ways that would make them guilty of taking advantage of their good fortune of not being harmed in the attacks; and New Yorkers, with their notorious reputation of being "rude", have proven they are like everyone else in their feelings of camaraderie and citizenship. If nothing else good comes out of the attacks, I do hope America continues to count its blessings and is thankful for what it has. 

AR: I'm very pleased and heartened that you enjoyed the essay. After writing it, I was reminded of many other things, which I'll probably use to either write another essay or add to this one. In particular, I will never forget a small airplane showing up one day in Nogales--and half the town came out to look at it. There was an airliner that went over once a day, which as kids we would go out and look at, but this wasn't that airliner. Smoke came out of the back of the airplane, and it looked like it was in trouble. Seeing an airplane was news enough, but one that had smoke coming out of it--the way they did in the movies when they were hit--this was something. The great joke of that afternoon, the great and funny joy, was that it turned out to be a strange advertising experiment. This was in the late 50s or early 60s. The plane flew around and around, and eventually it created the Pepsi logo. I never forgot that afternoon. 

There's another thing you bring up--that ultra-sensitivity about so many things related to those horrible events. The Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team is currently playing in the National League pennant series against Atlanta. Meanwhile, Seattle is playing New York--which is suddenly having a Cinderella season. Who wants to be the team that beats them? It's a strange feeling. 

Ben Carsten: I thought the title “The Night of No Airplanes” itself was a great thought. Now, I will forever remember that day not only for all of the reasons that I already would have but also because there were no airplanes. I am particularly fond of the statement, “I don’t want to be on the receiving end of incoming missiles, and I don’t want anyone else to be, either.” As I read it, I was struck by the simplicity of it, it seemed almost childish, and yet it could have been spoken from the lips of any of us. I like it, a lot. 



From Alberto Ríos: A General Thanks to Everyone 

I'd like to thank all of you who participated in these discussions. The questions were challenging, and a pleasure to answer. I'm always surprised at the directions in which conversations invariably take us as human beings. There's something hopeful in that observation. Talking to each other, simply said, has value. Let me also say that I spent some time reading all your responses to my work, specifically “The Secret Lion.” Your responses were elegant and insightful—you did a very nice job. These were like small essays, and I was both surprised and pleased. It’s a curious thing to read people commenting on one’s own work. Curious, curious. Okay, okay—it’s fun! I hope you will all continue to be interested in and engaged with literature. I know it's sometimes very difficult to see the practical sense of spending time with a short story or a poem. Don't be fooled, however. Ideas--meaningful words, in whatever form they take--have always added something to the human heart. It's funny how we think of the heart as both romantically impractical on the one hand but physiologically essential on the other--and yet we use that one word for both: heart. It's worth thinking about. Once again, thank you all. And don't let fear anywhere near that heart of yours. It has too many other things to do, and, I trust, always will.

                                                                 -- Alberto

This interview has been edited for continuity and spelling. The interview was given on October 18, 2001.

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