Action/ReAction

Action/ReAction
By Bree Ervin

have you ever noticed
the way
our actions
reflect our fears
reflect our actions
create their fears…

like the way that
people
who are afraid
of gay marriage
being imposed
on them
seem to think
they have the
right
to impose
straight marriage
on the world.

like the way that
men
who are afraid
of women
taking over
seem to think
they have the
right
to exert
dominance
over women.

like the way that
white people
who cross the road
because they are
afraid
of black people
walking toward them
seem to think
they have the
right
to make
black people
feel afraid
for being black
in public.

most of the time
most of the people
who act
in charge
who are
afraid
to let go
of the whip
don’t seem to
realize
what they are
most afraid of
is themselves.

perhaps instead of
imposing
our fear
on others
we should
consider
the Golden Rule
and not
act
in ways that
make us afraid
that others will
treat us
as we treat them.

perhaps
if you are
afraid that
your power
will be turned
against you
by the people
you are
holding down
consider
what would happen
if you used
your power to
lift them up
instead.

3 Comments

Filed under Naive idealism, poetry

What’s a legal immigrant anyway?

Thinking about immigration and citizenship and access to human rights and thinking about all the people who tell me, “But my ancestors came to the USA legally” as if that makes them better than current immigrants.
I always want to ask them when exactly their ancestors came over legally – was it right in the beginning, when Europeans colonized this land, because I’m pretty sure the First Nations people would argue about the legality of that occupation and colonization of their land by foreigners.
Or was it during the previous waves of immigration when our borders were open to overseas immigrants who were willing to labor to build this nation?
How many hoops did their ancestors have to jump through to be considered “legal?” Was it more than stopping at Ellis Island and having to sign their name and be checked for boat lice?
What steps did they have to take to become citizens?
Do the people saying any of this have any idea how much more complicated the process has become since 9/11?
It’s hard to tell people to come legally when we’ve ravaged their countries, sparked wars and famines and then blocked legal entry to all but the most educated, wealthy and privileged few…

I, sort of, get the fear that lives in people about someone else “taking your job” – but here’s the thing, it’s not your job. It’s a job, you have it right now and that’s great – but we live in a capitalist society which means that your employer gets to replace you at will any time they can find someone who can do your job better, faster, cheaper or happier than you, whether that person comes from another country or not.

You want your job – be good at it, show up, don’t take it for granted. If you don’t want to be trapped working for less pay than you think you’re worth – fight to enact and enforce a livable minimum wage so that no matter who has what job, anyone working can be assured that they can survive and thrive on their wages.

I, sort of, get the fear that we might be letting in terrorists, but then I think about the near daily acts of domestic terror that are being allowed to occur in our nation and I just have a hard time accepting that I should be more afraid of desperate foreigners looking for a better life than of desperate and afraid citizens who are willing to hurt and kill other citizens in response to their fears.

I, sort of, get that there might be something to fear in letting new people into our borders, but I see that there is for sure something to fear in creating global problems and then turning our back on the results and refusing to accept any responsibility for the people whose lives and livelihoods we’ve imperiled through our imperialism. (See how that works?)

I’m not saying that we should just throw open the borders and let in everyone and grant everyone citizenship overnight – but I am asking if we can please stop having pissing contests over whose ancestors immigrated legally, correctly and who is therefore better or has more right to be here. I’m asking if we can start taking responsibility for the consequences of our national actions, for the refugees from the wars we’ve sparked, from the famines we’ve helped create, from the policies we’ve enacted around the world.

Just a thought.

 

6 Comments

Filed under Rant

Schrodinger’s Rapist Revisted

I had an experience today that got me thinking about the way we treat each other, the things we expect from one another, and the things we do to take care of ourselves in an uncertain world.

My train of thought led me back to this old post trying to explain the concept of Schrödinger’s Rapist. That attempt largely failed with the very people it was meant to educate/enlighten/help…

Maybe today’s experience will prove a better example.

See, the premise of Schrödinger’s Rapist is that anyone could be a rapist – and no one knows if you are, or aren’t, until it’s too late. Thus, certain people who fall into categories that are historically, socially, statistically and physically more vulnerable to rape are right to take extra precautions around people who fall into categories that are statistically, historically, physically more likely to be rapists until they have sufficient evidence to believe they are safe.

This concept upsets a lot of people, primarily men, because they believe it amounts to saying that all men are rapists. It doesn’t. It says all people are potentially rapists, we don’t know until we “open the box.” (To stick with the Schrodinger theme) It further says, since men are more likely to be rapists than people of other genders, it is not unreasonable to practice caution around men until you feel you can move them into the “not a rapist” box.

Still, men are upset about this.

So, let me try again with a more tangible, real life example.

This afternoon I was leaving the grocery store. While I was shopping my car had gotten boxed in by three really big trucks, severely limiting my visibility as I tried to back out of my spot and head home.

I backed out very cautiously, moving slowly, checking my mirrors and turning my head to check all my blind spots frequently as I inched out. Once I broke free of my parking space, I saw an elderly woman walking up the aisle toward the store. The nose of my car was pointing in her general direction and as I straightened out my car it was clear I would be driving right past her. She was just on the other side of one of the large trucks that had been blocking me in. I cranked my wheel a little further to make sure I could swing around both her and the truck and leave enough room for her to feel safe and comfortable.

Instead of continuing to walk forward, she froze. Then she slowly inched her way closer to the bumper of the large truck, hugging it, and staying on the other side of it from me.

Now, I had a couple of options – I could take this personally. Didn’t she know I was a good, safe, nice driver? Hadn’t she seen me cautiously and slowly backing out? Why on earth would she be scared now and move to protect herself from me and my vehicle? It’s not like I was going to run her down in the King Sooper’s Parking Lot. I DO NOT COMMIT VEHICULAR HOMICIDE, DIDN’T SHE KNOW THAT?

OR

I could appreciate her caution for what it was – an act of reasonable self-protection based on decades of social training that told her that cars CAN BE dangerous. Cars have the potential to harm or even kill unwary people. Sure #NotAllCars are driven by homicidal, or even just hurried and harried, or absent-minded and distracted drivers… But, a few of them are – and YOU NEVER KNOW UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE.

In fact…

While most drivers in most parking lots drive slowly and cautiously, respecting the fact that parking lots are filled with pedestrians of all stripes as well as other cars trying to maneuver their way into and out of spaces, we’ve all seen the person who mistakes the parking lot for a race track, who cuts off pedestrians and other drivers to snag that prime spot, or who backs out and then tears through the parking lot as if Gotham has sent up the bat signal and they are Batman’s ride to a dubious and destructive heroism.

In fact… Many of us have been that driver at one time or another. In a hurry, distracted, running late and desperately trying to get through one more f’ing chore on our way to the place we’re supposed to be.

Or, perhaps, you’re like me, and you’re hungry and you’re pretty sure that getting in and out of that store AS FAST AS POSSIBLE is the only thing keeping you out of prison for mass murder, so scaring a few people in the parking lot is a small price to pay, you were paying attention, you were focused – THEY”RE STILL ALIVE AREN”T THEY!?! No matter that if a small child had wriggled free of their adult (as mine once did) and runs out from between two cars (as mine did) and dashes in front of your car (as mine did) and then panics and STOPS instead of running out of your path (as mine did) you wouldn’t be able to react in time and you’d be the bad driver we’ve been taught to fear after all… (luckily the driver my kid ran in front of was one of the much more common cautious in parking lots sort. Which did not stop me from soundly scolding said child and making sure she understood that SHE ALMOST DIED!)

No matter, you’re a good driver. You’re safe, you’re nice, considerate.  You don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.

You’re not a monster.

Most of us aren’t.

And yet… We teach our children to be cautious around cars – in parking lots, on streets, even on sidewalks – looking both ways, paying attention to reverse lights, looking around when they are riding their bikes, listening for cars as well as watching for them. We teach our children to hesitate first, to be hyper aware, to assume that drivers do not see them, and will not stop for them – even when the driver SHOULD stop for them. (Because sometimes drivers fail to stop. Sometimes drivers fail to obey the traffic rules. Even good drivers sometimes fail.)

So, when people exercise caution around cars and take steps to protect themselves against being harmed or killed by wayward drivers and their vehicles – we don’t take it personally. We don’t throw up our hands in disgust and wail, “Why don’t pedestrians TRUST ME? Why are they always so cautious? It’s rude. It’s profiling. Don’t they know that I’m a nice driver? I don’t commit vehicular manslaughter. #NotAllDrivers!”

Instead we respect their caution. We respect that they have been trained since birth to understand that pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists (and smart car drivers) are all at a distinct disadvantage should they fail to be cautious at the wrong moment or let their guard down around the wrong driver. And we respect that they can’t actually know if a driver is dangerous UNTIL IT IS TOO LATE, so it is okay for them to exercise caution around ALL DRIVERS.

We understand that there is a power differential there that favors the person in the car, and so we allow, we encourage, people to exercise and express their caution. We applaud them for it.

In the same vein, there is an inherent power differential between men and women and people of other genders in our society. This is something that has been trained into non-male people. We have been taught, since birth, that men are stronger, faster, more aggressive, more powerful – physically, financially, politically… We have been taught to respect, and fear, the power differential – the same way we’ve been taught to respect the power differential between a pedestrian and a car. We’ve been taught to exercise caution, because we are at a disadvantage.

So, while #NotAllMen are rapists, men hold more power and are statistically much more likely to be rapists than people of other genders. Therefore people of other genders should not be shamed, browbeaten or yelled at for exercising caution around men in the interest of protecting themselves. Especially not while we live in a society that continues to blame the victims of sexual violence – they asked for it, they were in the wrong neighborhood/bar/club, did you see what they were wearing, they were drinking, they smiled, etc.

As long as victims must accept social responsibility for the violence inflicted on them, it stands to reason that we should allow them every and any self-protection remedy they see fit to employ, including exercising caution around all men.

We cannot simultaneously tell people in parking lots that they are responsible for their own safety and then yell at them when they press themselves into corners to avoid oncoming vehicles.

We cannot simultaneously tell people that they must protect themselves from rape, and then yell at them when they aren’t relaxed, fun, nice, flirty, whatever with all men… Or even with all nice men – because they don’t know you’re nice until you show them – and getting upset at them for protecting themselves… Yeah, maybe you’re not quite the nice guy you thought you were.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Running toward inspiration.

I don’t run. Unless Zombies are chasing me. And they never are.

I used to be a sprinter, back in middle school and briefly in high school. But the jogging, running for miles and miles thing – never understood that.

And then, yesterday, I ran a 5K with my youngin.

She’s been training for it since September with a group called Girls on the Run (Can I just say – I don’t think they thought that name through. As a girl’s empowerment group, shouldn’t they be “Girls Running Into the Fray” or “Girls Run the World” or… I mean, aren’t girls sort of on the run already, and isn’t that what we’re trying to change…?) anyway, poor name choices aside, it’s a cool group and it has done good things for my kid.

Twice a week for two months she would stay late at school and train with two coaches and 16 other students – all female.

They stretched, ran and practiced positive self-talk and team building for an hour and a half twice a week.

Two weeks ago they ran their practice 5K around a lake by our house that I like to ride my bike around. When I signed the permission slip for her to go there was a box for people who wanted to run with their girls to check. I asked The Kid if she’d like me to come do it with her and she said yes, so without really thinking it through, I checked the box and committed myself to running 3.5 miles around a lake. (The practice run was longer than the actual run because… That’s just how big the lake is.)

On the designated day, we showed up at the lake, stretched, listened to a wee pep talk and started running. Then we stopped and walked a bit. Ran a bit, walked a bit. As we got to the last 1/4 of the route The Kid and I decided to sprint, walk, sprint, walk. That was silly and fun and made us both giggle. It took us about an hour to complete our lap around the lake.

We didn’t care – we’d had fun, that was what this was supposed to be about. It was a win in our book.

About a week before the official race day I got an email about The Race that said there would be about 5,000 people running. I told the youngin and asked if she’d like me to do the run with her. Again, not thinking this through all the way.

She said yes and I registered.

I announced on facebook that the apocalypse was imminent and that when future generations asked when it began, those who survived could say it all started on November 8th at The Great Candy Run in Denver, CO at around 10 in the morning.

I did not train. As I told one of my friends, training is for people who intend to repeat their mistakes.

Instead, I woke up Sunday morning, put on a tutu, spray painted my pigtails a matching green, borrowed my kid’s polka dot socks, ate breakfast and went to the race with my kiddo. I didn’t even wear running shoes because they didn’t match my outfit and I was going to be silly, and support my kid and remind her that this was for fun.

running in tutus

Tutu Momma and her “Panda Blur” aka The Panda Express getting ready to run.

I was not going as a runner. I don’t run.

The apocalypse (zombie or otherwise) did not start yesterday – but something else did.

My daughter and I ran together – the whole 5K, walking only once at the 1/2 way mark where they were handing out water. We slowed to a fast walk there and sipped a cup of water each and then started running again. When we made the final turn on the course, I looked at my youngin and said, “Do you have anything left?” She nodded. “Want to leave it on the track?” She nodded, and together we sprinted the last 100 or so yards, kicking into high gear, we ran all out, putting everything we had into every step and left it all on the track.

It felt great. Better than great. Doing something like that with my kiddo and finishing strong – together – was… awesome.

At the beginning of the race, the youngin told me that she wanted to finish in the top 3,000 because those people got medals. There were 6,000 participants. I figured even if we just walked fast we’d probably make it. But then we started running, and we kept running, and when her legs got tired and I asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “let’s go a little more.” and again when she pushed through sore knees and sore feet and kept running and kept running… I realized we were definitely going to make it.

She was going to make it. I was just being pulled along by her strength and her gravity.

girls run the world

Who Runs the World?
These girls!!

When the race results came in, I read them to her. She placed 400th in her class out of 2,300 participants. We placed 1220th over all, out of 6,000 participants.

We ran the 5K in 36 minutes.

Not bad for a first time.

And there it is – I said it – for a first time.

Because… We had fun. We worked hard, we struggled at times, it hurt like hell in places, but we pushed through and we had fun.

And this is how it starts.

You wake up one morning and run a 5K and have fun, so you start thinking – imagine what we could do if we actually trained? Imagine how much fun we could have training together?

And then you run another one. And it’s more fun and sucks less than the first one. And you start wondering, what would it be like to run a 10K or a half marathon. And then, before you know it – you’re a fucking runner.

It’s already happening. Last night I looked up the Spartan races – I’ve been thinking about them for a couple of months, but never thought I could do one, because I don’t run.

I don’t do endurance. I’m a sprinter.

But the Spartan races aren’t just running, they’re also obstacle courses. In the mud.

I like mud.

I discovered that there is a Spartan Sprint happening in my state right around Mother’s Day. A sprint being “only” 5 miles, instead of 10.

And my first thought wasn’t, “5 miles? Welp, guess I’m not doing that.” Nope, my first thought was, “I better get registered so the kid and I can have a training goal.”

I’ll say it again, the apocalypse is imminent.

That said, I learned a lot yesterday.

After years of wondering about runners and fully, firmly believing that they are mentally ill, I had a moment yesterday where I got it, because running with 6,000 strangers was fun. It was crazy and silly and ridiculous, but also oddly empowering to be out on a track with strangers cheering you on, and you cheering on strangers, all of you doing a thing together in a spirit of friendly, collaborative competition. Each pushing the others to do their individual best. Each giving a word of encouragement when we saw another runner struggling to keep going… It reminded me of why I used to run, and of why I quit when the competition started to be less collaborative and started getting serious.

Yesterday I remembered that everything is better when we work together and support each other to get everyone across the finish line.

Yesterday I learned that a tutu and polka dot socks can make ALL THE DIFFERENCE. My sister used to have an alter-ego, Tutu Girl. It was her super-hero persona. She would dress up in a tutu (she had many) and dash about town being kind to people, picking up trash, dancing in the street to make people laugh and generally being ridiculous. It was wonderful! For a while she had a photographer friend taking pictures to put into a book. I suddenly, desperately, hope that she still has them because I learned yesterday that the world needs Tutu Girl.

tutu girl

Tutu Girl all grown up is The Shit.

Attitude matters – and going in wearing silly socks and a tutu helped me remember this was about having fun and being silly and supportive and that it was Not To Be Taken Seriously. I think if I’d had to take it seriously, I would have hated it. I think if my daughter was running with someone who was taking it seriously, she would have been one of the kids crying and saying, “I can’t, I don’t want to, this sucks, can we PLEASE STOP.” Instead of, “Let’s try to make it a little farther before we stop. A little farther yet. Let’s keep running, we can do this, we’re so close, we’re really going to do this!”

If we were competing against others, instead of just doing our personal best – I don’t think we would have liked it. The tutu reminded us that we were there for ourselves, to have fun, and to help others have fun. It was not That Kind of Competition where only one person got to win – the goal was for everyone to win for themselves.

And this knowledge reminded me of the writer’s block I’ve been suffering from, and that I see many of my writer pals, and other artist pals suffering from lately, and I realized that the problem is – we’ve stopped writing and telling stories because it’s fun and we’ve started doing it to Get Published, or to Win a Book Contract or even To Get Readers/Fans…

We’ve gone from wearing tutus and being in fun runs to being fucking runners who take this shit seriously and compete against others. The friends of mine who aren’t struggling with artistic block are the ones who are making art because IT MAKES THEM HAPPY AND IS FUN.

And I think that’s the secret. To everything.

It has to make you happy, it has to be fun. (And I realize for some people being a fucking runner who takes this shit seriously IS FUN – good on ya. I’m not actually bashing you, I just still don’t quite get it. Yet. I think it’s coming though. I did obsessively refresh the race results yesterday even though I suspected we finished somewhere near 2,000th place.) And for some people, writing for a contract IS FUN, or trying to outsell some other writer, or whatever – for some people competition is fun and it’s what drives them and gets them out of bed to Do The Thing – and that is totally okay.

For myself, I think the fun has to come first.

I’m writing again because… I took a step back. I’m not worrying about getting published or winning an agent or selling my stories. I’m not worried about getting someone else’s approval or validation. I’m just having fun discovering the story, writing it down, meeting the characters, putting the pieces together. I’m having fun blogging and putting ideas together and connecting the dots I see in the world and sharing those connections.

Of course, I hope that this story will find readers, because art is meant to be shared – but I’m not worrying about how or when that will happen. I’m just waking up, putting on my metaphorical tutu and my silly socks and doing a thing that makes me smile.

I want to train for the Spartan Sprint not because I think I’ll win, or even want to win, but because I want to see how my tutu and my smile will hold up on a 5 mile mud track filled with barbed wire and fire.

I want to train with my kid, because I loved seeing her face light up as she pushed through another barrier and kept going, and the way she glowed when we sprinted across that finish line together and she got her medal. And because, honestly, without her… I would have quit. I would have walked. Hell, without her, I wouldn’t have even started.

And of course, I want to do it because after reading the latest Dresden novel, I just like having an excuse to yell PARKOUR! at random and not always appropriate moments, and training for a Spartan Race seems like it will be FULL of opportunities to yell PARKOUR!

And that’s it, that’s what I learned yesterday – find the fun, follow the fun, and when it stops being fun – turn and try something else.

Or, put on a tutu. Sometimes they can make all the difference in the world.

Also, it really, really helps to have a partner in crime.

1 Comment

Filed under Things that work

Who Am I – Or, The Words That Woke Me Up.

Yesterday Don Gonyea delivered a piece on NPR about Bob Dylan. He talked about these previously unreleased songs and bites from the cutting room floor of the recording studio. He’d given them a listen and was struck by one in particular.

“Like a Rolling Stone” was, it turns out, originally recorded as a waltz. It didn’t work. Clearly.

The next day, back in the studio, they gave it another go. This time Al Kooper, a guitarist, slid over to the Hammond Organ and started noodling around on it.

The first full take of the song with the organ it became The Take, the hit that we’ve all heard and love.

But… Dylan didn’t realize it then. They kept trying, take after take – never quite getting it perfect.

Finally, at the end of another long day of recording, they realized they had it all along.

That first full cut with Al Kooper on organ, in the words of Don Gonyea, “Wasn’t perfect, but it was right.”

Those words sat with me all day. They filled me up. I tweeted them, sharing them with my artist and writer friends as a loving reminder to know when to put the editing pen, the eraser, the perfectionist away.

Perfection is not the goal.

I finished reading Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking in the wee hours last night.

There was so much awesome in that book, I cannot recommend it enough.

I ran out of sticky tabs.

Twice.

The art of asking

Ask… Accept… Receive… Give Back. Keep the gift moving.

It’s funny because I bought the book right when it came out – it still has the signing ticket for the Amanda Palmer night at Tattered Cover that I missed.

I bought it because I thought I needed the book then, but I was busy and in the middle of a million things and so the book sat on my shelf unread until this week when I realized – I really did need to read it. I needed to learn.

How to ask.

How to accept.

How to receive.

I’m glad I did, because aside from all the stated reasons to read it, it also reminded me to be brave, to make art, to do the work and “make the things.”

This morning I was woken at 5am by words. Words that would not quit. Words that swirled and poked and demanded to be written down.

I snuck, naked and shivering, to my desk and turned on a flashlight, afraid that too much light would scare the words away.

I jotted. I shivered. I noodled.

Eventually I got a sweater.

I got the words down.

They aren’t perfect, but I think I got them right.

Who am I?
Or, The Words That Woke Me.

by Bree Ervin
(With thanks to Don Gonyea and Amanda F’ing Palmer.)

I’ve been told that I can’t sing.
This rhythm thing is not for me.
Can’t hit the note
Can’t hold the tone
The harmony strings me up and strands me.
I whisper softly, under breath,
afraid to make myself be heard,
afraid that I will be too clear.

For a decade,
even more,
I’ve been tangled
in trepidation.
Because, who am I
who am I
to sing
to shout
to raise up my voice?

My teacher said I couldn’t paint.
This artistry is not for me.
Can’t keep my lines straight
Can’t color in place
I scratch and scribble out my doodles,
afraid to let myself be seen,
afraid that I am too explicit.

For a lifetime,
more or less,
I’ve been caught up
in this mess.
Because, who am I
who am I
to illustrate
to delineate
to let myself become unveiled?

I have heard that I can’t act.
This stage craft thing is not for me.
Can’t emote from yonder stage
Can’t fake laughter or squeeze out tears
I shy away from hot spotlights,
afraid to be caught in a scene,
afraid that I will be revealed.

For a decade,
give or take,
I’ve been boxed in
lost in
doubt.
Because who am I
who am I
to speak
to play
to perform my stories openly?

I am not so good at carving.
The sculpting trade is not for me.
Can’t whittle wood
Can’t chip at stone
I peel back my secrets in isolation,
afraid to see myself reflected,
afraid that I am too transparent.

For too long now,
just about,
I’ve been cornered
in despair.
Because who am I
who am I
to shape
to polish
to show my inner world stripped bare?

I have never been a dancer.
This moving art is not for me.
Can’t keep the beat
Can’t bend and sway
I twirl my feelings deep inside,
afraid to let myself go free,
afraid that I am just too disclosed.

For years now,
on and on,
I’ve been tied up
in this panic.
Because who am I
who am I
to move,
to lead,
to strut my powers unescorted?

I’ve tried my hand at poetry
stringing words
and
melody
jumbling the storyline
burying
the
plot
underneath devices.
Using
tricks
and traps
to catch The Muse
and make her
make me
do the work.

For a year now,
more or less,
I’ve been stuck here,
in my seat.
Because who am I
who am I
to tell
to share
to claim this truth?

But I’ve been told I have a way with words.
This writing thing might be for me.
A natural bard
A wordsmith sure
And yet the stories grab me in the dark,
afraid to be too understood,
afraid that I can’t make real art.

So I’ve been silent,
in this chair,
sitting here,
year after year,
wondering just how I could,
reach out to you,
and be heard.
Because who am I
who am I
to touch you
to tell you,
who am I
who am I
to ask you
to need you,
who am I
who am I
to turn on the light?

8 Comments

Filed under poetry

Another day, another shooting – can we talk about it YET?

I’ve been avoiding clicking on articles about shootings lately because the last one in Oregon hit me so hard.

I don’t even know why.

Maybe it was because my family had just been out there, and it was close to the town we lived in and had our children in – or maybe it was because it happened while I was starting to take active steps toward becoming a teacher and it happened on a college campus – making me face the fact that not only is no where safe from gun violence in this country, we’ve all accepted that, but that keeping students safe from gun violence is now part of every teacher’s job.

gun safety in america

What to do when you find a gun at your school.

And yet… As I look through my course catalog and plan my next couple of school years… There is no class on student safety, or gun safety, or violence in and around schools. We just have to follow district policy and hope that our school isn’t the next school. And there will be a next school because we still aren’t really allowed to talk about it, or take steps to make this madness stop.

When I start thinking about it, I fall into a wee puddle of despair. The intractable nature of this issue depresses me. The fact that we can’t even seem to start a conversation about it – not when kids are shot and killed in their classrooms, not when kids get a hold of guns and accidentally (or not accidentally – but, I believe, without fully realizing the permanence of the consequences) shoot a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor, not when open carry becomes open season

The closest we’ve been able to come to a conversation about this is being led by #BlackLivesMatter about our nation’s latent (and sometimes overt) racism and the militarization of our police forces.

hands up don't shoot

But in order for that conversation to be truly productive, we need it to join a larger conversation about gun violence, gun ownership, the 2nd amendment, FREEDOM and responsibility.

It is that last piece that I want to seize on – responsibility, because in all the shouting and finger-pointing and “from my cold dead hands” rhetoric… one of the things I keep hearing is that we can’t trample on the rights of “responsible gun owners” and that 30,000+ senseless deaths per year and the associated daily mayhem is simply the price we have to pay for those people’s rights, and I disagree.

I think that if you are a responsible gun owner, you should want to ensure that other people who own and use guns are also responsible. I feel like you should have a vested interest in making sure that irresponsible gun owners, along with violent people who wish to cause harm, destruction and mayhem are prevented from owning, acquiring and using guns. Or at least greatly hindered in their attempts.

I don’t want to take all the guns. (Well… That’s not strictly true. In my perfect world – sure, fuck guns. In my perfect world we wouldn’t need them, no one would need them – not the military, not the cops, not the criminals. Give all the hunters the new high powered, awesome compound bows. But, we don’t live in that world. That world is long gone. So… Working within the realms of reality – I’m not coming for your guns. No one is.)

That said… I do think we can talk about regulation.

I think we can talk about responsibility.

I think we can talk about safety and making it harder for a toddler to accidentally shoot their mom dead at the store.

I think we can talk about making it harder for people with known violent tendencies and violent intent to purchase/acquire guns. (One of the things that has been making me laugh that cold, dry, dusty laugh of despair lately is how often when there is another mass shooting, the Guns Everywhere crowd – which is distinct from the “responsible gun rights” crowd – will crow, “But he bought his guns legally!” as if this is an argument AGAINST having a conversation about gun regulation. I’m always like, “Exactly! And he shouldn’t have been able to! Thank you for pointing out that our current laws and regulations are inadequate!”)

I think we can talk about what a responsible response to a 911 call about a person brandishing a weapon should be. To my mind it is not automatically shoot to kill (See Tamir Rice and John Crawford III – both black males with toy guns in an open carry state), nor is it “Can’t help you. But call back if he opens fire.” (Response to calls about numerous white males with ACTUAL GUNS in numerous open carry states.)

I feel like we can talk about a reasonable response, perhaps one that focuses on “keeping the peace,” that starts by assessing a situation with the primary goal of de-escalation, that focuses on everyone’s rights – a responsible gun owner’s legal right to own a gun as well as everyone else’s legal right to life.

I think we can talk about requiring gun owners to be licensed, and for those licenses to require that gun owners take a gun safety class and pass a test to show their knowledge and proficiency. In my perfect world, those licenses would need to be renewed periodically – just like a driver’s license. And in my perfect world, an officer responding to a call about a person brandishing a weapon would have the legal obligation to request that license and verify it, just like an officer responding to a call of reckless driving is required to run the driver’s license and check their insurance and registration.

Further, just as a motorcycle license dos not qualify you to drive a car, and a car license does not qualify you to drive a large truck – a rifle license should be different from a handgun license should be different from an assault rifle license. Being competent with one type of gun does not make you competent with all guns. I believe there are levels that could be distinguished and delineated.

if guns were regulated

Just a thought.

I think we can talk about liability.

If gun owners were liable for damage caused by their unsecured guns, like the woman who left her assault rifle leaning against her house to take a call and returned to find that her gun had “wandered off” without her… Or the many, many, many people who have left loaded guns unsecured in spaces where children could access them… Perhaps we would see an increase in actual responsible gun ownership. The kind that keeps guns locked up and out of reach of underage, or untrained, unqualified, dare I hope, unlicensed people – not to mention people who the law has determined should not have access to firearms.

And what about gun manufacturers? Where is their liability? Not for every death caused by their guns, but for making guns with safety features so loose that a toddler is able to disable them and shoot someone on accident. For not using and incorporating the latest safety technology to ensure less accidental deaths occur as a result of their product’s use.

Cars are not designed specifically to kill. But sometimes they do. Not all cars kill people, not all drivers kill people – but car manufacturers are still required to include certain safety features in all cars – just in case.

Why aren’t gun manufacturers required to do the same?

I think we can talk about reasonable regulation. A friend of mine once asked what that meant. He claims it is just a liberal buzz phrase trotted out to make ourselves feel better. I have to say, it doesn’t make me feel better at all, because as much as I think these things make sense without infringing on FREEDOM!, and survey after survey has shown that a majority of Americans, including gun owners, also think these things are reasonable and make sense without infringing on FREEDOM! – nothing is being done to actually enact these things. So no, I don’t feel better talking about this, I feel depressed and hopeless and powerless.

I feel like Jon Stewart toward the end of his run.

So what are these “reasonable, common sense” regulations and reforms that the majority of people agree we should enact?

Universal background checks – enacting laws that make it so everyone who purchases a gun must pass a background check – and making sure that the data included in those background checks is kept up to date.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of semi-automatic, high-capacity assault rifles.

Laws greatly limiting the accessibility of high-capacity magazines for all styles of guns.

Laws allowing the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue.

Laws requiring gun registration and/or licensing. (As stated above, I believe this should also require gun safety classes and both a written and a practical test to prove competency.)

I think we can, and should, have a conversation about what kind of nation we would like to live in in regards to guns and violence. I think we should be able to have a conversation about the costs of a mostly unfettered individual right to bear arms vs the costs of a more regulated individual right to bear arms. After all, we already limit people’s right to bear arms. Private citizens don’t get to own tanks, make bombs, etc. which leads me to…

I think we need to simultaneously have a conversation about the use of weapons by law enforcement. Because this is all connected. We declared a war on drugs and began to militarize our police forces to fight this war, which led to people arming themselves against the police, which led to… Well, it’s a giant snake eating its own tail isn’t it?

More guns lead to more guns lead to more guns.

But wait! Statistics show that less people own guns now than in past decades – so why all the violence? Why regulate? Clearly less gun owners doesn’t equal less gun violence. (And yet… homicide, including gun homicide is declining, so maybe there is some correlation…? And no, it isn’t declining so fast that we can skip the conversation. 30,000+ gun deaths per year is not something we should be ignoring.)

So, let’s look at who owns guns AND who is using them inappropriately and have a conversation about what that data could mean for policy.

Oh wait, we kind of can’t.

The CDC isn’t allowed to conduct that kind of research, and the government isn’t allowed to keep track of guns in our country – no registry, no licensing, nothing because they might maybe someday use that information to take all the guns because Hitler (or something. I’ve never really understood this argument and I admit, at this point I’m done trying to pretend to be nice to conspiracy theorists. No one wants to take your guns unless you are a violent a-hole who shouldn’t have them in the first place – so stop waving your arms in my face and acting like a violent a-hole who should be disarmed!!)

What we do know is that less people own guns. BUT the people who do own guns tend to own more of them. So we have less gun owners, but more owned guns.

We also know a thing or two about the people using guns for violence against others.

Mass shooters, with exactly one exception, are male. They tend to be white. They tend to feel slighted by society, many post their grievances – as well as their violent intentions – before they act. Those are often ignored until after the bullets have flown and the blood has pooled.

Based on this, if we want to stop mass shootings, perhaps we should pay attention to angry men who say they the world has slighted them and want to hurt others as a result – and not let them purchase guns or ammo. Perhaps we should be allowed to take their pre-existing owned guns from them. Perhaps we should be allowed to put them on a “No guns, no bullets” list, like the no fly lists we’ve been allowed to create even though most passengers don’t crash planes into buildings full of people…

Since mental health is clearly a factor in these mass shootings, perhaps we should also be able to get them some mental health services! Wouldn’t that be nice!

But mass shootings, while dramatic and headline grabbing, are a small percentage of all the shootings in America. What about all the rest of them – the many, many, many handgun deaths that don’t involve high-capacity guns? The many, many shootings that the new laws outlined above wouldn’t touch? What do we do about all the day to day casual gun violence that doesn’t make the news?

If we knew who owned guns, or at least who was licensed to own a gun and what types they were licensed to own, we would also know who shouldn’t/wasn’t allowed/licensed to own guns. That might make it easier for police to confiscate illegal guns. Once confiscated, illegally owned guns should be melted down into some sort of non-weapon. This has the effect of eventually reducing the total number of guns in circulation.

Likewise any gun used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed once the case is settled (including appeals) and it is no longer needed as evidence.

Voluntary gun buyback programs should be available in more municipalities and those guns too should be permanently removed from circulation.

I keep hearing that the gun problem in America is intractable because we already have too many guns and there’s no way to get them off the street short of mass confiscation. But then I hear about gun buyback programs being shut down, or being forced to sell the guns back into the community they were just removed from and I realize that the real problem is that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Once guns are removed from circulation, let’s keep them out.

Now, I can already hear the panicked chorus of, “But what’s to keep The Government from taking everyone’s guns and, and, HITLER!”

Breathe.

We the people, and our representatives are smart enough to solve this.

First, we are already largely protected from this by the 4th Amendment, you know, the one that protects against illegal search and seizure. Now, I know this right has been eroded significantly by the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, not to mention the war on terror and Homeland security so – let’s use our power and strengthen it back up. (And maybe stop declaring war on everything?)

We can write the laws in such a way that if police confiscate weapons, the person they were taken from has the right, and the time, to challenge that and to prove that they were legally allowed to own and possess those weapons. If the weapons were wrongfully confiscated, the person who was wronged gets them back and is reimbursed for any legal/court fees. (See the marijuana industry as an example of this – police who raid a Colorado marijuana business are required to keep alive any plants they find until the case is closed or reimburse the owner for their loss when they are found to be operating within the law.) It would be great if we re-wrote asset forfeiture laws at the same time to reflect this as well, but hey, one dream at a time.

Perhaps you also noticed that I said weapons used in the commission of a crime should be destroyed only after all appeals have been made and the case is closed – so that if that person is found innocent they can have their gun back.

But yes, we should absolutely be taking steps to get more guns off the streets.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting the number of people who can purchase and own guns.

Yes, we should absolutely be limiting what types of guns and magazines and ammunition citizens (and police and the military) can possess, own, carry and use.

Yes, we should absolutely require background checks, gun safety classes, gun licensing.

Yes, we should be talking about what responsible gun ownership actually means – and if we have to legislate what that looks like (guns kept in locked spaces, out of reach of minors, not in homes with people who are banned from owning guns, etc.) because common sense is not actually common, then so be it.

And, if we’re really not allowed to regulate guns or talk about guns, maybe we can take some advice from Chris Rock and try to control the bullets.

7 Comments

Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Picking a new boulder to roll.

It’s been a while. Nearly a year. So if you’re wondering, who is this person showing up in my inbox, on my feed, in my space – don’t worry, you’re not alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing, it’s why I haven’t been around.

Last year I took a few big, bold steps in a new direction. Even as I did it, I knew I was running from, rather than running toward. But it didn’t matter. I had to run and I was so overwhelmed and so buried and so completely at a loss that it didn’t matter which direction I was running – to or from – I just had to move. The status quo was not working.

There’s a quote from a book called Electric Brae by Andrew Greig about happiness, it goes something like, “The key to happiness is to love what you have and to know when to throw the stone away.”

The same year that I read Electric Brae, I also read Shike by Robert Shae and there is a scene in that book which talks about movement for movement’s sake, about getting unstuck, unfrozen by simply starting to move – no purpose or direction required.

These two moments in the literary development of me converged last year. I was stuck, I didn’t know what to do or where to go, so… I threw the stone away and just started moving. I moved toward a thing that I knew made me happy, that I knew I liked doing – cooking – and I let that movement take me where it would.

If you were with me then, you’ll remember that I started a cooking business. I love cooking. I’m good at it. I wanted to share it with more people.

It worked. Sort of.

I got a few gigs and then got hired as a chef instructor at the local Sur La Table. Mostly because in my interview I said I wanted to teach kids, and they desperately, desperately needed someone who wanted to teach kids.

I ran all the youth cooking classes and camps after that, and filled in with adult classes when there weren’t any kids to teach. I got promoted within about a month of being hired. Everything looked good. I was moving forward.

Or…

Sideways.

Whatever, I was moving.

It turns out to have been a lucky thing because, in moving, I found myself again. I found my path, my calling, my One Thing – and I couldn’t have done it if I’d stayed still, pushing the same boulder up the same hill.

rolling boulders

Sometimes you have to let the boulder roll back down while you recalibrate.

I admit, when I walked away from Think Banned Thoughts, I thought I was walking toward my own restaurant, that was the pie in the sky goal, the dream…

But, you might remember, I am a fan of the Fail Fast philosophy of entrepreneurship and learning.

What I quickly realized was:

1. Restaurant hours SUCK. If you have a family, and you want to see them, working in the restaurant business is probably The Worst Thing you could do next to being a first responder of any sort or joining the military. (I am not bashing anyone who makes those choices or saying they are bad family members, in fact I have mad respect for all of them – it’s just not something I can or want to do.)

2. Cooking for other people is not fun. I mean, sure for some people it is, clearly, there are loads of chefs who love their jobs and love what they do, but… For me and what I was trying to do, it wasn’t fun anymore. Everyone has some sort of issue with food these days. They all want you to make wonderful this and that, but without any actual ingredients because of allergies or ethics or because someone shared a facebook meme that convinced them that food was going to kill them.

3. No one actually wants to pay for food. Again, everyone wants high quality, all organic, GMO free, allergen free deliciousness, but then when you remind them how much that actually costs to purchase and prepare – forget about it.

BUT – all was not lost because I wasn’t just cooking, I was teaching.

And as I taught I remembered that time I started my own cooking school for kids because I wanted to teach them how to cook, and eat, and enjoy real food.

And I remembered the time I got very, very brave and submitted workshop proposals to some writing conferences, and got selected to teach, and did well and got invited back and had SO MUCH FUN!

And I remembered the summer I became a certified sexual health educator because GOD DAMN IT SOMEONE HAS TO TEACH THESE KIDS THE FACTS, and tried to start my own sexual health education camp or lecture circuit or something that would allow me to help educate youth about sex and sexuality and consent.

And then my oldest gave me the quiz at the back of her copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth and determined that I was Erudite – the faction that loaths ignorance and blames it for all of the world’s shortcomings. “If people just knew the facts…”

And then one day after a couple of weeks of teaching the kid’s summer cooking camps and talking with the parent of one of my students to assure her that her son was doing well and was going above and beyond in helping others, especially the younger participants, my manager pulled me aside and said, “You’re really good at this. I love listening to you when you’re teaching kids, and the way that you can switch hats and connect with their parents too is amazing.”

I walked out on cloud 9, and got in my car and drove home and by the time I walked in the front door, I had a new plan.

I was going to figure how to become a teacher. A for real teacher, in a school.

I’d looked into it before and it always looked WAY harder and more complicated than it should be. I already had a degree, it seemed like I should be able to get my teaching certificate in less than 2 years, but everything kept making it look like I needed to start over.

I’d looked into the Teach America program and had even gone so far as to fill out the application before reading the fine print and realizing that I would be stuck teaching in a city far from my kids who were much younger then and who I felt still needed me around more than not.

But now I remembered what all of my dreams had in common – helping kids find their place, helping them feel better and do better and be more prepared for the world we’re creating for them… Giving them the tools they’re going to need and the skills and confidence to use them.

I ambushed my husband’s mom who is herself a retired teacher and told her what I wanted to do and asked her how to make it so.

She told me about a program for people who already had a bachelor’s degree and were ready to change careers. It sounded like something I could pull off. She also told me that I could start subbing even sooner and helped lay out those steps for me.

We went on vacation and the hubs and I talked about my new dream. The kids listened and joined the conversation. I was shocked and surprised by the level of support and encouragement I got from all of them. After all, this is my gazillionth new career since my hubs and I met 15 years ago – and this one requires MAJOR sacrifices on everyone’s part.

“Yes honey, but this is the one we’ve all been waiting for.”

With the support of my husband and kids, our parents and siblings and friends, I put my plan into action.

I inched forward.

I was moving again.

I’ve been subbing for a month now – and I love it. Even the rough days, and there have already been rough days.

I’ve been accepted to the teaching program I applied for and with a little luck, and a windfall of cash (anyone have a spare $20,000 they want to put toward closing the teacher shortage? How about $5 or $100? We are definitely in every penny counts land!) I’ll be a fully licensed (and employed) middle school English and Social Studies teacher in 3 years.

It’s a weird feeling, after running away from this path for so long, to finally be moving toward it. On so many levels it feels like coming home.

A friend recently asked my husband, “What took her so long?” and all we could do was laugh about it. I wish I knew.

That said, there is so much in this field that I want to talk about – so this is the big warm up post. The warning – conversations are coming. Because… part of me does know why this took so long, the same part of me that knows exactly why we have a teacher shortage. And, I’d like to talk about it, I’d like to work on solving it. I’d like to come together, you and me, and all of us and change the world.

I missed you.

Thank you for letting me take some time to find myself again in all the noise.

Thank you for your patience.

Let’s talk.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized