The Working Through

Karen Finley Teaches a Class on Dealing With 9-11


On Tuesday, December 10, Finley and her students got ready for their final show in the basement theater at 45 Bleecker Street, beneath The Exonerated. I had talked to a dozen students when Finley's teaching assistant, Theresa Smalec, approached to say that a couple of them wanted her to tell me that the article shouldn't say the class had been devoted to working through 9-11. It was more about turning struggle into art.

"That's just part of this whole resistance," Finley said, when I told her. "We are all working through 9-11." She estimated that 80 percent of the final projects touched on it, if obliquely.

State Senator Tom Duane sat at a small table going through index cards, some with names—people whose stories had moved him. Like Billy Merritt, a Vietnam vet who'd been kind to Duane years ago when he was 20 and working on a clam boat off the Virginia shore. Sometime after 9-11, Duane went to look him up and learned that Merritt had gone to the woods with a bottle of liquor one night and frozen to death. Duane spoke about Merritt as part of his final project, but Duane's participation in the class seemed less connected than other people's with 9-11. He felt he needed a life outside of politics, he said, and he'd admired Karen Finley ever since seeing The Black Sheep. Still, there was a connection to 9-11. Duane is HIV-positive and knows now that he won't die from it. "I spent all that time thinking I was going to die, and then 9-11 came, and I think it just gave me a bigger sense that I had to get out what was in my heart—now."

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