Creativity in Chaos

Actress-writer-director Deborah Twiss draws parallels between 9/11 and the present moment, and advocates for art as a way to process trauma.

As artists, by our very nature, we are not those who tend to subscribe to “herd mentality.” We are usually living outside the system, shunning the norm in all its mediocrity.

Our lives have changed so radically in these past weeks. Suspended right now are all the carefree trips to a café for a salad and glass of wine, the subway rides to the movie theater, hanging out in dog parks, having people over for dinner parties, school. Others have compared what we are going through right now to that awful period in 2001, when the world changed so radically.

I still remember the time just before and after 9/11 in great detail. I felt like I had the world open to me, that August of 2001. I’d just left a bad relationship and was living in Tribeca. I was finally able to keep the money I was making, instead of supporting a guy who sat home “writing a screenplay,” I was auditioning again, I had been cast in a film that earned me my Screen Actors Guild card, and I was preparing to travel to France to do ADR for a film I’d starred in that had shot at the Cannes Film Festival a few months prior. I truly felt so free and safe.

The poster for La Festivalière, starring Deborah Twiss.

On the morning of 9/11, I was lying in bed at 8:46 a.m. thinking about going for a run on the West Side Highway when suddenly the sound of a plane rapidly descending, its engines sounding like they were in distress, came barreling over. The building shook and then there was a massive explosion that sent me flying out of bed, convinced the plane had crashed onto Canal Street below. I ran to the window and witnessed the gaping hole in the World Trade Center. The others in the apartment began speculating what could have happened as we watched the flames coming from the gaping hole in the Tower. People on the street stopped to stare in disbelief and horror, and rescue vehicles blared as they arrived from all directions. Out of nowhere, a second plane came full speed toward the southern tower and we watched as it banked and sliced into the building. It suddenly became apparent we were under attack.

In the days that followed, I was stuck in the zone just south of Houston Street. I didn’t have valid I.D. that said I lived there officially, so I wasn’t able to venture outside the zone for fear of not being able to reenter. I spent five days watching the news, and walking down to “the Pile.” There were memorials and lost person signs all over the place. Restaurants in the area were closed. There was a tapas bar on Spring Street that was closed since the owners couldn’t get to and from it with ease. The tapas place had a kitty who was there, most likely a mouser, and it was hungry. A deli nearby was still open and so one of my apartment mates and I would go get turkey and slip it under the door for the kitty. In the midst of all the horror, that kitty’s life was so precious to us and we had to help.

We went to the Ear Inn nightly, drinking and talking to the rescue workers. There was a young woman who was a medical student and had come to New York City to help with the rescue efforts. She sat at the bar, covered in dust, drinking whiskey. Through tear-filled eyes, she told us how so many people had come to rescue, as she had, but there was no one to be found. “It’s like they just disappeared,” she said.

Deborah Twiss directing In-Between (and holding the boom and her two kids) with cinematographer/producer Stann Nakazono and actor Charles Fatone.

There were so many days and nights I would cry, mourning the lives that were lost on that awful day, devastated for the world that we lived in that was no longer safe, no longer felt free. And then one day, shortly after, I was on the BQE in a cab, going to the city, and there was a fog so thick that Manhattan wasn’t even visible. With my head on the window, gazing at the invisible city, I imagined how cool it would be if the fog lifted and suddenly there stood the World Trade Center, untouched! I allowed the fantasy to truly expand and reveal itself to me. I understood how miraculous it would be for everyone if that kind of magic were possible.

Then it happened. It was like lighting cracked through my heart and mind simultaneously. I knew I had to write that script and make a film. It was the only way I would be able to heal myself, and hopefully in the process heal others. The story poured out of me. It was as if all the fear and sadness and massive love I have for the world channeled through me and into that script. The catharsis was incredible. The film is In-Between. We shot it for hardly any money, but just did it. I was obsessed and had to get it to the finish line. I’m so proud of how it turned out and sharing it with people, at cool little film festivals throughout the world, was so wonderful.

Deborah Twiss and Charles Fatone in In-Between.

We are in this position now, collectively as artists. There is so much sadness and panic and grief. We are being forced to stand still, stay in lockdown, stop everything. But in this time, we can embrace the opportunities to create the deepest, most heartfelt art that will help the world heal, help us heal. I believe each of us who has the desire to create must create. We are part of the fabric of the world that gives texture and hope. It is during this moment that we have to finish that screenplay, allow our imaginations to flourish, paint, draw, dance, do everything we can to tap into the collective subconscious and find the way to move forward. We have the ability to feel the heart of humanity and it is our job to help it become manifest.

So today, make a choice. Choose to create. Choose to heal. The world needs your gifts right now.

Featured image of Deborah Twiss by Nicole Terpening, courtesy of the author.

An actress, director, writer and producer, Deborah Twiss came to New York City to study acting when she was 17 and quickly got involved in also writing and producing indie films. Her first feature, A Gun for Jennifer, went to over 27 film festivals and is a European cult hit. She then produced and starred in the indie Molotov Samba. Shortly after, with her 18-month old son in a stroller and her baby girl on her chest in a Bjorn, Deborah wrote, starred in and directed In-Between, a supernatural 9/11 thriller (available to view here). She also wrote, starred in and was the supervising director on A Cry From Within starring Eric Roberts, Cathy Moriarty and James McCaffrey, to be followed by Confidence Game (as writer/director/lead actress), featuring Sean Young, James McCaffrey and Robert Clohessy. In the past couple years, Deborah has begun the dive into the exciting world of episodics and is currently in production on the supernatural thriller A Beautiful Distraction (starring Sean Young, Adrian Paul and Vivica Fox) as well as a dark comedy about the strip club world, Crazytown (featuring Robert Funaro and Eric Roberts, among many others).