I Don’t Wanna! (talk about gun control)

I actually have been writing.

I wrote several blog posts and then chucked them. I wrote like a madwoman yesterday to meet a deadline.

But there’s one thing I’ve been avoiding. Admittedly, I haven’t even been reading much in order to avoid the subject.

I do not want to talk about Sandy Hook.
I DO not want to talk about Sandy Hook.
I do NOT want to talk about Sandy Hook.
I do not WANT to TALK ABOUT SANDY HOOK.

So, here goes.

I really don’t talk about politics too often, do I? There was that DC40 thing last fall and the PantheaCon thing. But I don’t usually “go there.”

Today, I feel like I have to “go there.”

I have a ton of friends with small children. I guess I was ahead of the procreation curve, my kids are in high school and jr. high. And as I read my friends’ posts on social media about how hard it was to put their babies on the bus and how they gave extra hugs and kisses, I keep thinking, “Am I callous? I didn’t struggle with sending my kids to school. And high school is where we are expected to worry about guns.”

All this as I took the third batch of cookies since Friday out of the oven[1] and stirred the homemade mac-n-cheese while finishing some of the kids’ chores for them before they got home from school.

Perhaps we all mourn in our own way.

I haven’t been able to process this event. I’m sure you are all having a hard time with it too. But I just want to go into my mom-cave and hide until 2013 (which *is* coming, btw). On top of the normal response, I’ve started some of the lighter prep work for a solstice oracle. So, I am as open as convenience store. With some of my filters removed, I am admittedly testy and should not be in polite company—or Online.[2] Tomorrow should be a blast.

Today I got into two tussles with a brother with whom I typically have no contact aside from birthday and holiday wishes. I had a go at a stranger in the grocery line. I dropped the ball in magic-class. And I’ve had to walk away from family TV time—twice. This is not how I function.

Let me backstory before I go on.

When my cousin died when I was about twelve, I cried. A reasonable response. My brother chastised me, “You barely knew him.”

As a kid, my sister used to sing, “Gentle Shepherd” and “Shannon” to me just to make me cry. She thought it was hilarious. I was always emotive when it came to music.[3] With some songs it’s instant and consistent—doesn’t matter who sings it, I cry immediately.[4] And I’m not a sad, maudlin, or morose person—I’m Pippi Longstocking in a pointy hat. I just cry with music. And not cute little soap-opera tears, either. Big “boo-hoos” (and sometimes even some snot).

These family tidbits are just to explain why I shut-down “when bad things happen.” I always have Brother’s voice in the back of my head: “You’re being ridiculous. You don’t even know anyone in Connecticut.”[5] And I even hear my sister laughing at me as I cry.

I stayed offline for most of the weekend, even reblogged a post just to avoid thinking. (That worked out well.) Husband had some friends over for a birthday celebration for me on Saturday where there was absinthe and Prince–no thinking. And I took care of some grove business on Sunday. On Monday, a little tired from a magic class gone slightly cock-eyed, I crashed on the sofa to watch the finale of The Voice with my daughter.

Goddamnit!! if Blake Shelton didn’t stand there with a card that said, “Emilie Parker / 6,” as a piano and string instruments in C guided the soft candle lighting into focus. I’d know that Leonard Cohn song anywhere

And I saw what was about to happen: They are all going to be holding those babies’ names.

Blake didn’t even get to tell us about David’s secret chord before I had my hands in my face yelling, “Noh, noh, noh, don’t. Fast-forward! I can’t!” and ended up stomping out of the room so my own Emily could watch it without me.[6] After that, I pushed it waaaaaaaay down: “I will deal with this emotion at a later date.”

Guess what today was.

A later date.

Yesterday some of you saw my rant on FB about the t-shirt meme. My niece posted it first, then my brother. I commented on both. My644188_526552814037754_1413004826_n (adult) niece removed my comment. My brother and I went tête-à-tête. The crux of his argument was, “If a school is not teaching about God then, by default, it is teaching atheism.”[7]

The crux of mine was that God is everywhere—even where children die. And prayer *is* allowed in school—it simply cannot be enforced. And that religious education *is* allowed in public schools—as longs as no one religious dogma has preference over another.[8] That’s the trouble with rhetoric like this—all finer points that could be very good debates get boiled down into a sound bite, tossed on a t-shirt, passed around social media, and then cut off any meaningful discussion at the knees.

Then, after hearing my President speak, I quoted him: “‘We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to guns.’” I added, “Folks, I’m totally pro-gun (just not in *my* house). You see, it’s not about taking things away—it’s about providing access to the right things.”

This was followed by this The Conservative’s Club post which equated the human rights infractions in The (former) Soviet Union, Turkey, Germany, China, Uganda, and Cambodia to U.S. attempts at gun control. The only point I agreed with was: “With guns, we are ‘citizens’. Without them, we are ‘subjects’.”

Mind you, I was only on FB for a little while. And on-and-off at that.

Bam, bam, bam!

With the post that I just reblogged debating the etymology of The Rede—which followed one discussing the ethics of The Rede as it applies to cabbage worms—I am starting to wonder how my fellow Witches feel about guns and how y’all are handling all this shite. We are a pretty emphatic crowd. I can’t be the only one who can’t watch Adam Levine sing “Hallelujah”—especially through the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, and the major lift.[9] This has to be doing a number on you as well. Can we struggle through it together? (I promise to peruse your blogs as soon as I can do it without breaking-down.)

Here’s where I stand. I’m pro-Amendment 2; not because I like guns but because I believe in an armed citizenry to maintain a modicum of balance. I certainly don’t want an armed authority while I’m systematically disarmed. (I know, I don’t have access to nukes–but I’m fairly confident my government isn’t going to nuke my house.) Plus, I don’t want a gun in my house–but will protect your right to have one in yours.

However, I do not believe that “armed” should not mean “without regulation.”[10] So, I am also pro-gun-control. Gun control does not mean completely disarming. I can even imagine a world where I could be (conceivably and philosophically—if not viscerally and morally) amenable to automatic weapons—so long as they were only in the hands of well-trained and regulated citizens, and that I could be reasonably sure that they would remain only in the hands of such folks.

Ergo, *control.*

It’s like what I said about boundaries. Can debaters stop resorting to either/or, all or nothing reasoning? A boundary is not a rejection.

After I posed most of this on FB, (1) there was an odd explosion in town—but I don’t know what yet. Some lights went out across town—but it was startling. (2) I discovered that there was a (very real) gun threat at one of my kids’ schools. (No worries, it’s all in hand.) (3) I was told that a family neighbor killed (himself and??) his family this morning. This hits close to home, y’all.[11] WhoTF are we as a people? These aren’t anonymous strangers today. I know these people.

So advise me, my friends. How do we live practical lives surrounded by human violence? Yeah, yeah. I got the spiritual, ethical, philosophical end of it. I mean practical lives. The day-to-day and I have to live here end of it.

For instance: When a mentally ill person decides to follow through on threats to feed my dogs “antifreeze-steaks” and then attempt to kill me and my family, can I harm some?

Sure.

We’ve all pretty much decided that “self-defense” doesn’t count in The Rede. So let me push the argument. Didn’t we already harm the mentally ill person by not providing—and also verifying that s/he undertakes (there’s lots of folks diagnosed with shit for which they refuse treatment)—proper mental health care? Or do we wash our hands of that? As a Heathen, I cannot.

The argument that I keep hearing is tantamount to “That’s not my responsibility.” Well, who the fecks is it then? You certainly don’t expect the mentally ill person to be responsible for his/her own care, do you? Really??[12] And people close to the mentally ill? They tend to get so wound up in life that they believe they’ve “got this,” that they can manage the situation in a domestic way. We can’t count on them to be objective. So what do we do? I certainly don’t advocate rounding people up for Orwellian “therapy” or institutionalization. But there has to be something in between.

Has to be.

If I know that I know that I know (or even reasonably suspect) that a community member has at least three personality disorders, a grudge, a handgun, and a rifle—what are my obligations? If not as a citizen, as a Heathen? Because, if not me—someone else. Even if so-and-so doesn’t come after me, if s/he decides to go after someone else, did I not do harm by passively allowing it?

If we are in a community with an unstable person and we know that they pose a danger to someone (even if we don’t care about that individual on a personal level—hell, even if we actively dislike the target), what are our obligations? How do we do no harm?

I need a compassionate and ethical sounding-board unencumbered by Christian dogma and the political trappings that have somehow become part of “religion.”

You in?

It’s time:

the-voice-tribute


[1] Entirely non-holiday related. That didn’t even occur to me until later.

[2] Let me apologize to anyone who poked the typically placid bear and got an arm bit off.

[3] Still am. I bawl at the first two notes of “O Holy Night” even if I don’t have a connection to babies in mangers and shit. And it doesn’t have to be sappy songs. “Don’t You Forget About Me” does it as fast as “I Will Always Love You” (Dolly Parton, plz). I had to work at desensitizing myself to “Amazing Grace” so that I could attend funerals with a modicum of dignity. I can do it if there are no bagpipes.

[4] Except Michael Bublé. He only makes me feel ennui.

[5] As an adult, I know grief for a stranger is not a ridiculous reaction. But it’s hard to shake our hard-wiring.

[6] When it was over, I had a huge glass of wine in my hand and my darling girl said, “I saved it for you so you can watch it when you’re ready. It was lovely.” Damn kids. They never stop being precious.

[7] His children are/were homeschooled. That’s a whole story . . .

[8]    Brother: There is only one God

Me: I agree. Not everyone calls Him Jehovah.

[9] Coz on a regular day, I’m all about all of those things.

[10] Heck, I willingly make myself subject to lots of regulations: I can drive, but within a speed limit and in a particular kind of vehicle; I can purchase and view pornography, so long as everyone is a consenting adult; I can put ugly gnomes on my lawn, so long as they don’t pose a public hazard. I can’t marry a woman and I can’t grow or buy pot—but we’ll work on that next.

[11] Don’t get me started on the other shit that has gone on this week—like the guy who carved a pentagram in his son’s back. Do you know about this? Hazey told me since I was avoiding the news.

[12] This is not an invitation to indict Lanza’s late mother. We don’t know everything yet.

Walt Whitman

I teach American Literature so I have had my hand at teaching Walt Whitman for a good decade or more. I took a graduate class called “Whitman and Dickinson” in the late 90s. But, unlike my ongoing affair with Giles Deleuze, it wasn’t the academic jargon and the erudite theory that made me fall for W.W.; it was the gritty repetition of work-a-dayness that I discovered while still a lower-class grub in high school.

Strangely, this had nothing to do with my English Teacher, Mrs. C, one of the best teachers I’ve ever known (and who, along with an eighth grade teacher guy named Miles, may be the reason I became an English teacher myself), who was more for Shakespeare and Madrigals than she was for Howling beatnicks. It’s too bad. I could have used some advice about what happened Under the El[1] before finding out about that particular brand of up-close-and-way-too-personal by myself.[2] However, nothing coarse or profane ever worked its way into Mrs. C’s class. I mean, the randiest thing I remember from that grade is The Mayor of Casterbridge. (Mr. B the year before taught us that there was nothing in poetry except sex and death and childhood memories. Only he said it like it was a bad thing.) It was Miss Louise, my drama teacher and the choral director, who chose the musical Working, the songs of which are all based on Whitman’s poetry, when I was a Sophomore in the mid-Reagan years. It was at the point when I too heard America singing and fell hard for the hairy, horny, horn blower.

The mason, the waitress, the farm worker, the fireman, the factory worker, all had a beautiful place in a poetic flow of a nation’s infrastructure.

And I was not a product of the academy; I was the child of a factory worker and a truck driver, granddaughter to sharecroppers all around.

So, you see, it’s no surprise that despite my deep and abiding love for My Captain, I was never able to convey such adoration to a set of undergraduates who longed less for urban poetry and more for the imminent end of the semester.

After I left high school, I went to work at a factory too. The bend-lift-straighten-flip-turn-dump-bend-lift repetition of my days and nights and overtime-weekends would send me into reveries of singing my body electric as I watched products, from which I was ultimately estranged as Marx called it (little did I know at the time that there was a word for what I was feeling-like-a-cogg-in-the-machinery), roll up the undulating conveyor belt like pink salmon driving to their spawny-death.

Death and sex and childhood memories.

But now, PhD’d, clean and respectable, only occasionally getting tipsy and committing candor that horrifies my peers, I don’t read Whitman for the joy he brought me—I teach him for the core curriculum. You see, I was told not to let my students see that I am “human”—and though I usually chuck that advice where it belongs, every once-in-a-while I think, “They don’t need to know that side of me.” And in this case, it’s true. They don’t need to know what happened to me on Ashland, on Kedvale, on Morgan, in Burbank, in Brighton Park, or at that fancy South Shore penthouse. Aw, hell, nobody needs to know that shite.

So—I suck at teaching Whitman.

Until this year.

This pretty little thing wandered her way into my life and scared the feck out of me. I didn’t see myself if her, if that’s what you are thinking. She just loved Whitman. For his grunge—not in spite of it. We stayed up all night talking through a common-mess we’d both been marinated in, and we might have had a spot too much to drink. The next day, I did not have a clue about what I was going to do in class. I’d make a quick PowerPoint, I guessed, and force-feed Leaves to begrudging, entitled George Strait fans. Then I thought—how would I teach this to Hazey? I imagined a sympathetic audience instead of a hostile one.

I made a Power-Point, yes. But I set it to run a series of 19th century faces and bodies—mostly bodies, some human, some not: white men, white women, poor folk, old folk, slaves on the auction block, prostitutes, pigs in the streets of Manhattan, the Golden Gate and the water below. Then, I did the unthinkable. I didn’t lecture.

I read:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.

My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air,
Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same,
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin,
Hoping to cease not till death.

And then I’d tell a little bit about Whitman’s life—kinda like I was talking about my granddad. How he thought abolitionists were full of shite and hot-stink while he lived in New England but then he moved to NOLA and saw what he saw and knew what he knew. All while these images of bodies flashed behind me. And through urge and urge and urge, I think they heard me. The way I meant for them to hear me. The way W.W. meant for them to hear him. I’m sure of it because one young man, the one who had said horrid things about Bradstreet, sat in the back with his eyes welled-up and the edge of his desk in a white-knuckled grip.

At that moment I thought—this is sort of like magic.

OK—not magic—but teaching magic.

I have taught students from a purely theoretical standpoint where I’ve totally thrown my back into the teaching before—and they got it. They didn’t loooove it, but they got it. When I didn’t throw my back into it, they seemed to love it much more. And Whitman is very Pagan-friendly in his god-imbued-nature-and-humanity-is-cool-especially-when-united-in-its-stinky-and/or-naked-ness anyway. So, next semester when I have a new set of preps in ground classes (well, one brand-new—one I haven’t done in a few semesters) and two brand-spanking new preps Online, I think I’ll take the less aggressive route and let the material do the work for me.

I mention all this because it’s (conveniently) a make-up post for my W week and I am starting a new set of classes this upcoming week and I’m a little twitterpated, as usual. I have a full-to-capacity Seekers class (and running-over—I may have to tell two students that they had to wait for the next session, I hate that feeling!!) and a comfortably full Neophyte class and straggling students at other levels. My concerns run from “Where is everybody going to sit?” to “Will I get back in time from belly-dancing to change before teaching X, Y, or Z?”

Maybe I’ll just flash naked bodies on a screen and call it a day.

This post is part of a year-long project. Rowan Pendragon’s The Pagan Blog Project; “a way to spend a full year dedicating time each week very specifically to studying, reflecting, and sharing . . . .    The project consists of a single blog post each week posted on prompt that will focus on a letter of the alphabet” (http://paganblogproject/).


[1] A line from Howl.

I wrote a poem called “Under the El” in 1990 while organizing and performing in local “Slams”—remember those?—making a prolonged metaphorical connection between the poet and the rapist: “I use my tongue / to invade your space . . . my verse / [fills your mouth] / with the bitterness / and you can’t breathe / gasping / gulping / your chest won’t expand / and yeah . . . you really don’t / want me / to / stop.” I look back at the absolute violence of the entire poem (bits of which I will not publish here) and I wonder how the feck, given the first-hand nature of it all, I got out of the 80s alive.

I also wrote a poem about heroine—called it “screaming Hyacinths”—and proclaimed myself, “a fabulous junkie.” At that point in my life, I felt that “Scraping the bottom / with my mirror and razor / was better than floating in cinder-block / office wall mediocrity.”

[2] I mean, I was with my sister when she was mugged when I was only three-years-old, saw my first DB while in second grade, and was never really a stranger to sexual cruelty—but this shit is different, y’all.