About 3 months after starting this site, I told myself I couldn’t stop blogging until I reached one million views. I figured that would mean I would be at this site for at least 3 years. One million views was to me and this site what California was to the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. When days came around when I really didn’t feel like writing about the goddamned TSA anymore (after working a job that you dislike, there definitely comes a point at which you say “The last thing I want to do is think about that job”), I would tell myself, “Well, we can’t stop. We’ve got to make it out to 1-million-hits.”
Tonight, with the 1 million mark reached less than 1.5 years after first clicking publish on this site, I have decided that I am going to be taking a break from this blog for a while. All along, I envisioned Taking Sense Away, post-anonymous period, as a place where I would begin relaying specific anecdotes that I experienced during my 6 years of employment with the Transportation Security Administration at O’Hare airport in Chicago. However, I have now realized that it would be silly to begin dropping that information here, because, all along, my ultimate goal has been to write a book based on my experiences at the TSA.
I am a writer, first and foremost. Writing has been my true passion since the age of 7. Really, I identify myself more closely with my fellow contributors at McSweeney’s than I do with the TSA. It has been that way for a long time. I have very little in common with the average TSA employee, or with the average TSA-hater, for that matter. My days and nights at the TSA were spent dreaming about the fantastic possibilities of literary bliss; possibilities that materialized ghost-like each day (Xanadu mirage of “brooks and beautiful meadows” ranged over the crowds of bristling airline passengers, conjured by Coleridge and Xanax popped to make the days tolerable); on the checkpoint, as I patted men down and viewed women’s nude images all in the name of national security, I wanted nothing more than to return to my pen and paper so as to set spinning in motion little worlds, made cunningly.
Writers write what they know (forgive me for burnishing that rusty old saw) and a lot of what I know involves 6 years at the TSA. I have seen hurled at me the trite, predictable, tired accusation: “He is doing what he does for attention.“
To this I say: of course I am, you dullard. When anyone says something or writes something, I am sure that, for the most part, he or she always hopes that it will come to someone’s attention. If one actually finds him- or herself in possession of information that will be of interest and concern to American taxpayers, international travelers, academics and historians– ultimately, the entire world– then, surely, that person will hope that– should he or she choose to speak out– the utterance will come to someone’s attention. Not just someone’s attention, but many people’s attention. Millions of people’s attention. Because my true love is writing, literature and art, I want any piece of writing for which I have shed the proverbial blood, sweat and tears to come to the attention of as many people as possible. I know of a few current and former TSA employees who have responded to this blog and my writing in this manner:
“I worked for the TSA, and I know everything that you [Jason] know, but I didn’t say anything, because I am loyal and patriotic and believe in doing things the right way [i.e., filing an official request to TSA headquarters for permission to speak one's mind in the media]. I didn’t tell the world about the many absurdities, interesting stories and abuse of public funds that I witnessed at the TSA because I’m not interested in just getting attention.”
To which I say: bullshit, good sir or madam. If I had a dollar for every TSA employee I knew (managers and up included) who said “Someone needs to write a book about all of this, or make a T.V. show or a movie out of it,” I would have several hundred extra dollars right now.
In fact, several former TSA employees have already tried to write books about their time at the TSA (and here is the little-known first former TSA employee/blogger, who started his site nearly 3 years prior to mine. I only discovered it two months before clicking publish on this site. He actually wasn’t too bad; he just lost steam after two months). One of those books was by a female former TSA employee who converted to Islam, or some such, and wrote a book about it all. Another was by a different former TSA employee lady who wrote several books about her opinions on the Department of Homeland Security. I just spent 10 minutes trying to re-discover their books via Google, and couldn’t do it. Need I say more about how well they pulled off those books? Someone was going to eventually be the first voice to come out of the TSA, and yet, predictably– even though everyone I knew agreed that someone needed to step up and be the insider voice of TSA– some of those same people cry “attention monger!” as soon as someone pulls it off, or get up in arms when it turns out that actually making such a thing happen involves more than a polite, Blogger Bob tea-and-crumpets affair peppered with avuncular, government-approved jokes.
So it goes. To those TSA employees (and I could theoretically name dozens) who said that someone should step up and bring the realities of the everyday TSA screener’s life to the attention of the world, and who now cry foul in light of the fact that I’ve made inroads in doing just that, I ask: Why didn’t you do it first? Or why couldn’t you do it first?
At any rate, what I really want now is to write the full truth about my time at the TSA, in as much detail as possible– with all the many shades and gradations that make up any attempt to sketch the truth to the best of one’s ability. To do that, I have to birth a substantial literary work, in the memoir vein. And that is the reason I am taking time away from this blog: to write the book.
A month ago, I decided to try to read the comment section of a major Brazilian newspaper that re-published one of my POLITICO articles– in the Portuguese– and one of the few things I could make out in translation was:
“He sees these things at TSA and now suddenly he is the Virgin Mary, innocent of sin, speaking of all these things.”
That made me smile. The commentator had a point (I love Brazil). No, I am not free of sin. And in order to tell the full story of my time at the TSA, I will have to write about my life, as well, including all the sinful personal confessions that I have yet to make; including all the transgressions I myself was guilty of as a TSA employee. Indeed, after my book comes out (God willing) I will probably lose many of my fans, because the truth is, I have made many mistakes in my lifetime; the truth is, for a long time I was not very different from the “other kind” of TSA employee that the public hates. I am not at all without sin and regret.
Do not think that I will stop at exposing the imperfections and tragic flaws of the TSA– I will confess all of my imperfections and tragic flaws, as well. I have a lot of work before me now, in trying to weave the tragicomedy of my life into the tragicomedy of the TSA. I am also working on writing projects that have nothing to do with the TSA. I have been writing about things other than the TSA for most of my life, and I will spend most of the rest of my life doing the same. The writing project I am most excited about right now involves the unsolved murder of a black woman in 1940s Mississippi– my grandmother, specifically.
I will update this blog occasionally as I work on my TSA book. My only hope is that I won’t lose all my supporters after I have laid the whole picture out for the world to see– for when an artist presents a true picture of life as best as he or she can, it is always a silkscreen print stippled with dirt.