“Welcome to America, the land of blue jeans, rock and roll, and sporadic meaningless mass murder.” ~ Ben DreyFuss, Mother Jones

 

| Sun Apr. 20, 2014 2:31 PM PDT

On April 20, 1999, two teenagers walked into a suburban high school outside of Denver and shot 13 people to death. The massacre at Columbine was not the first mass shooting in America. It was not the first mass shooting at an American school. Indeed, Peter Jennings began the news that night, “The reaction of so many people today was ‘Oh no, not again.’” But Columbine was different. It became a national trauma in a way the others hadn’t. Yes, it was the deadliest American school shooting on record at the time—though it is no longer—but what really amplified its significance was the fact it was the first mass shooting that played out in real time on television. The shootings began at 11:19 a.m. By noon, local television stations had broken into regular programming with uninterrupted media coverage. Millions of people across the country turned on CNN and watched the story develop.

Here’s how America watched the chaos of Columbine: There were reports of a shooting and it was at a school and the body count began going up and witnesses said they were two shooters with shotguns and rifles and pistols and there had been an explosion across town and it had been a diversion maybe and pipe bombs, something about pipe bombs, and the body count kept rising, and booby traps, and then Clinton gave a speech and then the shooters were in a mafia that wore trench coats and maybe there were more than two and then, no, there were only two and they were dead and the bomb squad finished the initial sweep of the building at 4:45 p.m. and it was over, but not really because then there was the CCTV footage, the witness interviews, the search for motive, they had been bowling, they had been bullied, they had said something about Hitler and they listened to Marilyn Manson and they wanted to one up Timothy McVeigh and What Does It All Mean?

After Columbine there was a general sense that something had to be done. That kids getting killed at school was a thing we weren’t going to be okay with. “Never again,” as they say.

It wasn’t some fanciful impossibility. The British did it after Dunblane. And so we did that. Everyone got together and passed sweeping gun control legislation and there was never another mass shooting in America.

Except not really. Because the “never again” response—though shared by many—was not shared by all.

We seem to have accepted that the occasional mass murder is the cost of America.

On May 1, Charlton Heston came to Denver and made a much-discussed speech where he said, “We have work to do, hearts to heal, evil to defeat, and a country to unite. We may have differences, yes, and we will again suffer tragedy almost beyond description. But when the sun sets on Denver tonight, and forever more, let it always set on we the people, secure in our land of the free and the home of the brave.” Say what you will about that speech, but as far as predictions go it was spot on. It’s a fait accompli. There were more shootings. We mourned and then did nothing because we seem to have accepted that occasional mass murder is the cost of America.

Both responses, “never again” and “don’t bother trying,” offer statements about the USA. The former says “America is the greatest country on Earth. We went to the moon. Surely, we can stop kids from getting shot to death at school! If the Brits can do it, so can we. ” The latter says, “No, we can’t. We’re America. The greatest country on Earth and the cost of the liberty that makes us so is that our kids may get shot to death at school.”

Every time there is another mass shooting and nothing happens it becomes a little easier to believe that the “don’t bother” crowd is right.

Nothing changed after 13 people were killed at Columbine, or 33 at Virginia Tech, or 26 at Sandy Hook. Each of those tragedies came with the same breaking-news urgency as Columbine, but none generated the same sense of expected action because fewer and fewer people actually believed things could change. The last 15 years have been a lesson in how “never again” can be cowed into “I need a drink.”

And that’s insane.

Fifteen years after Columbine rattled America to its core, people still get shot while they’re at school. People get shot while they’re at work. People get shot eating. People get shot drinking. People get shot watching movies, shopping, driving, swimming, skipping, and playing baseball. It’s 2014 and in America people get shot doing basically any goddamn thing you can think of.

They don’t have to.

 

Ben Dreyfuss

Ben Dreyfuss is the engagement editor at Mother Jones.

 

“There is no sign of us where we have been.” ~ Elizabeth Jennings from “XIII. Last Reflections”, Sequence in Venice

“Sorrow is a vessel so deep
it can hold anything, even its own absence.”~ Eric Gamalinda, from “Fallen”

                   

April is National Poetry Month, and I read two books in one day yesterday, and then spent the next 12 hours with one of the worst eye migraines of my life . . .

All images by British realist painter Peter Coker (1926-2004). For more on Coker, go here.

                   

Nothing But Death

There are cemeteries that are lonely,
graves full of bones that do not make a sound,
the heart moving through a tunnel,
in it darkness, darkness, darkness,
like a shipwreck we die going into ourselves,
as though we were drowning inside our hearts,
as though we lived falling out of the skin into the soul.

And there are corpses,
feet made of cold and sticky clay,
death is inside the bones,
like a barking where there are no dogs,
coming out from bells somewhere, from graves somewhere,
growing in the damp air like tears of rain.

Sometimes I see alone
coffins under sail,
embarking with the pale dead, with women that have dead hair,
with bakers who are as white as angels,
and pensive young girls married to notary publics,
caskets sailing up the vertical river of the dead,
the river of dark purple,
moving upstream with sails filled out by the sound of death,
filled by the sound of death which is silence.

Death arrives among all that sound
like a shoe with no foot in it, like a suit with no man in it,
comes and knocks, using a ring with no stone in it, with no
finger in it,
comes and shouts with no mouth, with no tongue, with no
throat.
Nevertheless its steps can be heard
and its clothing makes a hushed sound, like a tree.

I’m not sure, I understand only a little, I can hardly see,
but it seems to me that its singing has the color of damp violets,
of violets that are at home in the earth,
because the face of death is green,
and the look death gives is green,
with the penetrating dampness of a violet leaf
and the somber color of embittered winter.

But death also goes through the world dressed as a broom,
lapping the floor, looking for dead bodies,
death is inside the broom,
the broom is the tongue of death looking for corpses,
it is the needle of death looking for thread.

Death is inside the folding cots:
it spends its life sleeping on the slow mattresses,
in the black blankets, and suddenly breathes out:
it blows out a mournful sound that swells the sheets,
and the beds go sailing toward a port
where death is waiting, dressed like an admiral.

~ Pablo Neruda, trans. Robert Bly

                   

Selections from Sequence in Venice

I. Introduction to a Landscape

Difficult not to see significance
In any landscape we are charged to watch,
Impossible not to set all seasons there
Fading like movements in a music one
To other, slow spring into the fast rage
of summer that takes possession of a place
Leaving the residue of time to autumn
Rather than just a used and ravished landscape.

And never long able to the see the place
As it must be somewhere itself beyond
Any regard of the ecstatic gazer
Or any human attitude of mind,
We blame all human happiness or grief
Upon a place, make figures of our feeling
And move them, as a story-teller might
Move modern heroes into ancient legends,
Into the solid and acceptable land.

For who can keep a grief as pure grief
Or hold a happiness against the heart?
Noble indeed to impute our worthiest thoughts
To a serene and splendid countryside
And therefore logical to let our loathing
See a storm looming in the summer light,
The hills about to learn of landslides and
The entire landscape be quite swallowed up
In a surrender—a type of our death.

XI. Journey from a Landscape

The colours stay within the mind, the light
Will not so easily permit itself
To be put out. In thoughts once more at home
A foreign fire will gleam, tints taken from
A sail, a wake of water widening out
Or subtle colours that make crumbling buildings
Renew themselves. These we have with us still.

And home again we learn how much we build
Abroad, put roots down in impermanence
Yet waver not from what time drags away
But are drawn too—like colours fading fast,
Like slow canals escaping to the sea.
Rest in this power to adapt, remember
The mind still turns like the huge globe and shows
Now Italy, now England and we are
The axis on which all our journeys move.

~ Elizabeth Jennings

                   

Music by Choir of Young Believers, “Hollow Talk” (such a wonderful video)

“We’re each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark.” ~ Ursula Le Guin, from The Unreal and the Real, Selected Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin Volume 2: Outer Space, Inner Lands

                     

Today when I begin writing I’m aware: something that I don’t understand drives this engine.” ~ Donald Hall, from The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 43

Wednesday afternoon, windy and cold, 47 degrees.

Two days ago it was in the mid 70′s, now this. My body is so confused, and everything hurts, right down to the cells.

I’ve spent the last two days trying to do taxes, the operative word being trying. Even with the online program, I realized two very important things: First, I did last year’s taxes wrong, and second, the people who write the tax codes went to the La Sade school of pain.

Evald Kallstenius Fir in Moonlight c1930 oil on canvas

“Fir in Moonlight” (c1930, oil on canvas)
by Evald Kallstenius

In between doing taxes, I have allowed myself to go on an art hunt for image of the moon, and I have come across some lovely new ones, so many that I will perhaps have to divide them among two posts.

Ah, me. So much to do still, and so very little of the wherewithal to do it. Yes, I am hovering somewhere near the bottom of the lowest lows, for far too many reasons to elucidate, so I decided that I will do a random thoughts post, mostly because I haven’t done one in a while, and also, I have a lot of random thoughts jostling for space in my brain, and if I don’t put them down, either my brain will explode, or it will reset itself, and I will have nothing but a reformatted hard drive of a brain, which, if you don’t know, means I will be completely empty.

“If I am not central to the world, then it fails
to make any difference whatever I feel.
The universe is large: to be eccentric is to be
nothing. It is not worth speaking of.” ~ William Bronk, from “Of the All With Which We Coexist”

To begin . . . what do I love?

  • Storms. Yesterday when the rain rolled in, and I heard the wind whipping the wind chimes, I found the sound to be completely soothing, so much so that I paused in my tax-induced catatonia, and took a shower, and then later, I took another shower once it was dark.

    Eugène Jansson Riddarfjarden in Stockholm c1898

    “Riddarfjarden in Stockholm” (c1898)
    by Eugène Fredrik Jansson

  • Bathing in the dark. I have always loved to do this, and with our glass block window in the bathroom, I have nothing but moonlight as my backdrop. It calms me in a strange way. Freudians would surely say that it is a desire to return to the womb, or some such blather.
  • Fog. Living near the ocean and the bay, we get wonderful fog, but not nearly enough. I know that fog is supposed to be one of those things in nature that can have an adverse effect on moods, but not for me. I love fog, the denser, the better.
  • Lightning. Not the same as storms. Storms can have no lightning, but when they do, it intensifies my desire to just sit, listen, and watch. Odd that I am calmest during nature’s furies.

“It isn’t given to us to know those rare moments when people are wide open and the lightest touch can wither or heal. A moment too late and we can never reach them any more in this world. They will not be cured by our most efficacious drugs or slain with our sharpest swords.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, from “The Freshest Boy”

What do I hate?

  • Sanctioned bigotry. You know, the kind at work in organizations such as police forces and religions, the kind that perpetuates the whole concept of us and them.

    Charles Guilloux Acqua-di-fiori

    “Acqua-di-fiori” (nd)
    by Charles Guilloux

  • Condescension. When a man talks to me as if I don’t know the difference between a spark plug and a radiator. Really? Still?
  • First impressions. These are almost never accurate, and what I hate most is that I do this all of the time. I make snap judgments even though I know better.
  • Weak handshakes. See condescension. I don’t need my metacarpal to be crushed, but don’t give me a limp fish.
  • Greed. When is enough too much?
  • Emptiness. I can be alone without being lonely, but what slays me every time is when I feel empty, hollow.

“We move so easily from light to shade
and always in pursuit of something else:”— John Burnside, from “Vi Knonos”

Color my world:

  • Purple, in all of its hues. Reminds me of fields of lavender, something I have yet to see in real life, and one of the reasons I so wish to go to Provence.

    Maurice Prendergast The Ocean Palace c1895

    “The Ocean Palace” (c1895)
    by Maurice Prendergast

  • Blue. I find that I am inexorably drawn to a work of art that is predominantly blue, everything from van Gogh to Rothko. Again, psychoanalysts would have no problem equating this fascination with my state of mind, but it goes beyond that: consider how many variations of blue exist, not just in art, but in nature.
  • Yellow. I used to abhor this color, mostly because somewhere in the recesses of my mind someone had once called my skin yellow, and I allowed that ignorance to affect me. Now, though, I find it to be one of my favorite colors in a work of art. I couldn’t tell you why, exactly; it’s just one of those things.
  • Black/white. Not color and all colors. It’s the extremes of both that draw me in. Truly, have you ever noticed how many ways black can be depicted in a work of art? My fondness for white tops—sweaters, blouses, t-shirts—is completely ill-advised, what with the dog hair and my tendency to spill, but I probably have more white tops than any other color. Again, what would Freud say, that old misogynist . . .

“Rhythm is just this oscilloscope of the soul. We come from a place that has always been inside us. Our words migrate helplessly. The world reflects only itself. Which is why we have to create our own memories . . . Why do we think our metaphors will save us? The world is only itself. Time is just our way of imagining it.” ~ Richard Jackson, from “About This Poem”

Things that bother me too much:

  • Bad grammar. I’m not perfect, and I really hate it when I mess up because I have no excuse, but I need to bear in mind that not everyone has English degrees.

    Oscar Hullgren Moonlight nd

    “Moonlight” (nd)
    by Oscar Hullgren

  • Bad driving. At least go the speed limit, for god’s sake. Yes, I’m always in a hurry, and I’m an aggressive rather than defensive driver, but I’m careful, and I’m safe, and some days I feel as if I’m driving an invisible car.
  • Lack of compassion. Some of the things that I read on my tumblr dash really get to me, like the young people who cut themselves because they are hurting so much, or the girl who was spit at because she was overweight. Who are these people who really feel that they are so much better than everyone else?
  • The NRA. Look, they have a right to exist. I don’t question that. They also have a right to protest or to gather or to speak out. Again, not a problem. What I have a huge problem with is their power with Congress. How many more mass shootings, or random killings of targeted groups are we going to have before anything changes? Will anything change? I fear that it won’t.
  • Congress. At one point in my life, I seriously considered going into politics, running for state senate. I’m so glad that I didn’t. Politicians in this country are the scum of the earth, as far as I’m concerned (see three and four above).

“Things happen all the time, things happen every minute
that have nothing to do with us.” ~ Richard Siken, from A Primer For Small Weird Loves

What I’m feeling lately:

  • I never truly realized just how hard it would be when my mother died. I think that I believed because our relationship was so hard, that it wouldn’t bother me, but it bothers me, every second of every minute of every day.
Edvard Munch Moonlight

“Moonlight”
by Edvard Munch

  • What bothers me the most is how much I feel I failed her.
  • I grieve too keenly, too intensely, for far too long. This, I know, yet I am completely unable to do anything about it. I still have dreams about my father that I awaken from completely shaken.
  • I have wasted my life. I never got my PhD, even though I always, always wanted one, always told myself that I would do it someday, and now someday is here, and I have done nothing, and it’s too late.
  • Time is passing much too quickly. It’s the bottom end of April, and still, here I sit, paralyzed by my own fear and loathing. How did I get to this point?
  • I am far too old to have another child, and in this, I have failed Corey. When we first got together, I had absolutely no fears that I would be able to get pregnant again, and then there was that tumor on my ovary, and then all hopes of that were dashed, and this vital young man was stuck with an older woman who could not give him the one thing he would give anything to have: his own child. Do not think that this does not creep into my mind at least once a day, that it does not hover around the periphery of every cross word between us, that I do not fear that one day, it will all be too much for him.

“I should like this sky, this quiet water, to think themselves within me, that it might be I whom they express in flesh and bone, and I remain at a distance. But it is also by this distance that the sky and the water exist before me.” ~ Simone de Beauvoir, from “The Ethics of Ambiguity”

What I am not good at:

Winslow Homer Easter Point Light 1880

“Easter Point Light” (1880)
by Winslow Homer

  • Living in the moment
  • Letting go
  • Moving on
  • Forgiving myself
  • Figuring out who my friends are, if any
  • Keeping up with my obligations
  • Following through
  • Stepping aside at the right time
  • Staying neutral
  • Not reacting
  • Not overreacting
  • Handling stress

“I am not good. I am not virtuous. I am not sympathetic. I am not generous. I am merely and above all a creature of intense passionate feeling. I feel—everything. It is my genius. It burns me like fire.” ~ Mary MacLane, from I Await the Devil’s Coming

Etcetera:

Emil Nolde Moonlit Night 1914

“Moonlit Night” (1914)
by Emil Nolde

Look, I know that I’m not a bad person, but I’m not the best person that I could be. I give when I can, but not enough. I do some things, but not others. I don’t go far enough with my writing. I love my family too fiercely, so that sometimes it’s smothering. I treat my dogs like children. I berate myself constantly for not following through, with my publishing degree, with postgraduate work, with writing workshops, with writing projects. But I stop just short of moving on. I harbor deep resentment, and I hold grudges, if only in my mind. I awaken from these nightmares, and I wonder how I got here, how I can go on, how I can do the right thing, whatever that is. I judge the actions of others when I have far too many foibles of my own.

Isaac Levitan Fog over Water c1895 oil on canvas

“Fog over Water” (c1895, oil on canvas)
by Isaac Levitan

I should be happy with what I have, my spouse, my kids, my granddaughter, but I cannot still this unrest in my heart, this feeling that I am not doing something that I need to do, that I am not going to the place that I need to be, but do not ask me what or where or when. If I had any answers, do you think I would do this day in and day out? The only thing that I know for certain is that I know less and less with each passing hour, and it leaves me feeling left behind. I am fallow and hollow, and my soul is the color of coffee dregs. And no matter how much I try to brighten my face or paint my nails, there is a hardness beneath, and yet that hardness is but a veneer, and below that is quicksilver, a mercurial being that is willful in one moment and utterly fragile in the next.

Enough. The floodgates must be closed. I knew that this wasn’t a good idea.

More later. Peace.

Music by Janel Drewis, “In the Pines (Where Did You Sleep Last Night)”

                   

The Other Day

1

The other day my wristwatch
came apart – not the time
but the band, not the beginning
but the end. The sun did not
shine, but it had not shown
itself for a handful of days.
Night came on early, but it is
that part of the year, at least
here, where night does that.
One friend says
“you can take my word
for the sun,”
misunderstood this as:
some sentences are like
sun and the moon,
some moon or sun,
some night only but
near night or far
night – consolation
in either case.

2

Wish friend had said
“take my friendship
for the sun”

Am missing the sun – but the
orbit or a human closeness
over time begins to resemble
the misshapen stand of a watchband,

or the case of moonlight
held only in the hands of
illusion / accompaniment -
the moon is moving a few
feet (or is it inches)
away from the earth every
year – whether “it” collided
with us (thus forming)

is beside the point. The
moon moves away like
our lives from ourselves.

~ Michael Burkard