Shortgrass: Day One and some thoughts on guns, fear, and yoga

Day One progress Day one at the Shortgrass residency is nearly done. I've finished reading my first book, Eula Biss' Notes from No Man's Land, and I've knit a few inches on my Frances sweater.

All of the books I selected were high on my "hurry up and get to this" list all semester. And each one was there for a different reason. A purpose. It is difficult for me to turn off my logician or strategist brain ever (too bad I can't control it, I'd be unstoppable), even when it comes to doing the things I love like knitting or reading or writing.

I've been struggling with revising an essay that deals with issues of power and agency. I'd heard really great things about this book and hoped it could inform my struggle. Notes from No Man's Land is a sharply written examination of the author's experiences with race relations, our national assumptions about race, and what has and hasn't changed about how we treat one another when it comes to care, attention, and apologies.

Originally, I'd hoped that the book would give me some ideas about how I could speak about what one group of people did to another a few hundred years ago--two groups I know very little about, and whose country I only have visited once, briefly. Original feedback on the piece included concerns about my own assumptions and insensitive language.

It's hard to escape one's assumptions and use of insensitive language. Language only becomes insensitive when it is heard by another, right? We aren't insensitive to the universe at large, but to one another, to ourselves.

Biss' book ended up doing something else for me, though, because in this book she is not afraid at all to talk about and question scary things that people don't like talking about, and especially don't like questioning. She sat her ass down in her chair and asked, what is this really about, this thing I want to write out into the world? And she answered it, even when that answer was sometimes difficult to accept.

It made me ask myself what I was afraid of writing about, and I think the answer will help me.

It's a fantastic collection of essays, whether you have a question or not. She is skilled in her use of language, her ability to tell a complex story clearly and with insight, and she has exquisite control over asterisks, for which I admire her deeply.

But reading and knitting were only a part of today. Today something terrible happened in Connecticut and it sparked the reliable torrent of opinions, in nearly equal measure half-baked, overly-emotional, logical and reasonable, and non-partisan all over the Internets.

And so here's mine. I will state at the outset that this is based on my own half/over/partisan opinion, and on my observations only.

There is not just a hard part to this conversation, the whole damn thing is hard. We have an opportunity to have a difficult discussion about gun control in this country, and we should take it. Those who think that "now is not the time to politicize this," think that because they are afraid that they might have to stand up to a nation of parents and siblings and grandparents and say 'my right to liberty is more important than those children's right to life was.' Histrionic? Maybe, but so is the idea that it's still valid to cite living in fear of soldiers occupying your home as a justification for being armed. Any other justification boils down to being afraid of your neighbors and the infrastructure that you have elected to protect you.

I am disgusted and ashamed by the avalanche of guns don't kill people vs. no guns, no gunshots rhetoric. It's like a Pro-Choice/Anti-Choice debate with no middle ground to be had. Instead, this should be a discussion based on actual causalities: Poverty, crime, reduced funding for schools and mental health support; the fact that states and countries with stricter controls do have fewer deaths. These things (among a host of others) point to our current environment as one that is not safe for rampant gun ownership. Gun control doesn't mean no one gets guns. And access to guns doesn't mean that every home will have an arsenal of assault weapons.

Gun owners are so afraid that they must be armed with guns to feel safe. This needs to be addressed as desperately as the fact that severely mentally ill individuals are able to obtain weapons legally more easily than they are medical support.

We need to stop being afraid to have these kinds of discussions at a national level; we need to stop being afraid of politicizing political issues. Clearly we aren't afraid to "participate in the discussion" on social media, where we will gleefully alienate one another from afar with emotional appeals rarely backed by reliable facts, but that isn't doing anything except spreading a culture of fear and fear apologists. Can't we do better than that?

View from the porch. #shortgrass #writersretreat

I was going to talk about yoga, but I'm out of steam. Tomorrow, I'll be tackling Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and taking a long walk in a wide steppe.

I'm staying off Facebook for the rest of week, so you'll have to leave a comment here if you want to talk about this stuff. I'll miss you all, most of all.