“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote. Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” ~ President Obama, State of the Union Address, 2013

“Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.  If you want to vote no, that’s your choice.  But these proposals deserve a vote.  Because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.  She was 15 years old.  She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss.  She was a majorette.  She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.  Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration.  And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.

Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence.  They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence—they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can, to secure this nation, expand opportunity, and uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.”

“The lights dim and everyone moves in amber. They flicker like votives. That’s what we will all be one day, insects in sap, strange jewels.” ~ Vanessa Veselka, Zazen

"Winter" (1902, tempera on canvas)by Akseli Gallen-Kallela
“Winter” (1902, tempera on canvas)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

                   

“There’s a space at the bottom of an exhale, a little hitch between taking in and letting out that’s a perfect zero you can go into. There’s a rest point between the heart muscle’s close and open—an instant of keenest living when you’re momentarily dead.  You can rest there.” ~ Mary Karr, from Lit: A Memoir

Wednesday afternoon. Partly cloudy and unseasonably warm, 72 degrees.

Finally got all of my meds refilled, and with the beginning of the year deductible, it almost cost $200. Painful. Everything hasn’t kicked in yet, so I’m still feeling a bit out-of-sorts.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Snow-Covered Cliffs at Kalela, 1901 tempera on canvas
“Snow-Covered Cliffs at Kalela” (1901, tempera on canvas)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

On Monday I allowed myself to get caught up in Dave Cullen’s book Columbine (my other birthday book), and I never wrote a real post; however, I’ve been saving the NASA Gangnam style video for one of those days, so it all worked out. Columbine is an incredible look at the events leading up to that fateful day, as well as events afterwards. So much of what I had come to believe was based on the myths perpetuated by the media: that the two shooters were outcasts (they weren’t), that the two belonged to some group called the Trench Coat Mafia (they didn’t), that they targeted jocks (they didn’t), that the two were goth kids (they weren’t).

I found the book fascinating in its straightforward presentation of facts based on countless interviews, journal entries, videos, police reports, etc.; I also appreciated the ways in which Cullen addressed the prevailing myths and then debunked them.

“Sometimes I dream a sentence and write it down. It’s usually nonsense, but sometimes it seems a key to another world.” ~ Anne Carson

Last night I dreamed that someone wanted to borrow my car to make a drug deal. I was uncomfortable with it but too afraid to say no. Then I was back in the small apartment that appears frequently in my dreams, and I was trying to figure out why one half of the kitchen was on one wall and the other half was across the apartment and why there were so many beds, five or six.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela Imatra in Winter 1893 oil on canvas
“Imatra in Winter” (1893, oil on canvas)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

A few nights ago I dreamed that my dad and my Aunt Remy had decided that Corey and I should move to South Carolina to run the fish business. I didn’t really want to go, especially because we would have to live in a trailer, but I didn’t want to disappoint my dad or my aunt. As an incentive, my aunt offered to pay for me to get my hair done. It was a very strange dream.

Then the night before I awoke Corey by saying out loud, “You act like you’re still single.” Apparently I had been having a dream in which the two of us were arguing about something, and I said that to him in the dream, only I actually said it out loud. He was very confused.

Still not as funny as the dream that Corey had last week in which he dreamed that his mother had starting calling him Hot Dog, and when he asked why she was calling him that, she told him it was because he was a little slow. Boy was he upset over that dream. I assured him that his mother would never call him Hot Dog and that no one thought for a second that he was slow.

“And that sound, that single sound,
When the mind remembers all,
And gently the light enters a sleeping soul,
A sound so thin it could not woo a bird” ~ Theodore Roethke, from section 3 of “The Rose”

Yesterday we were watching Olivia, who has recently begun to eat baby food, which is fun yet still a reminder of just how quickly time passes.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Lake Keitele 1905 oil on canvas
“Lake Keitele” (1905, oil on canvas)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

I called my mother to let her know that Olivia was at our house, and of course she arrived when the baby was sleeping. I offered to awaken her, but thankfully my mother declined. Olivia’s naps are too short as far as I’m concerned, and if’s actually sleeping, then I want to leave her alone. Not sure what Alexis was planning to accomplish  (if anything) while we had Olivia, but I’m just glad to spend time with her.

I kind of wish that I had thought to tell Alexis to send the stroller as it was amazing outside, and I don’t think that Olivia gets outside very much. When the boys were small, I had a double stroller, and I would take them for walks all of the time, Eamonn sitting in the front, and Brett usually napping in the back. Ann and I would walk to Lex’s school to pick her up, babies in tow, Rebecca in Ann’s stroller, and first Eamonn and then both boys in mine. Those were good days.

“We walked on the river bank in a cold wind, under a grey sky. Both agreed that life seen without illusion is a ghastly affair.” ~ Virginia Woolf, Diary Entry, 10 November 1917

I read the most depressing news story today: A teenager who performed in the inaugural festivities just a few weeks ago was killed in a gang-related shooting. Fifteen-year-old Hadiya Pendleton and one other boy were shot near King College Prep on the South side of Chicago.  According to the Chicago Tribune:

Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Frosty Birch Trees, 1894, oil on canvas
“Frosty Birch Trees” (1894, oil on canvas)
by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Friends of the slain girl said King was dismissed early today because of exams, and students went to the park on Oakenwald—something they don’t usually do.

Friends said the girl was a majorette and a volleyball player, a friendly and sweet presence at King, one of the top 10 CPS selective enrollment schools. Pendleton performed with other King College students at President Barack Obama’s inaugural events.

Neighbors said students from King do hang out at Harsh Park, 4458-70 S. Oakenwald Ave., and that students were there this afternoon before the shooting took place. A group of 10 to 12 teens at the park had taken shelter under a canopy there during a rainstorm when a boy or man jumped a fence in the park, ran toward the group and opened fire, police said in a statement this evening.

Gun violence is nothing new in Chicago, but poignancy of this story brings it home: She was just celebrating in the nation’s capital, participating in something incredible, especially for someone so young, and then in just a blink, she is gone.

The U.S. averages 87 gun deaths a day, according to most sources. It just befuddles me how we as a nation are so inured to gun violence.

“I wanted silence. My daydreams were full of places I longed to be, shelters and solitudes. I wanted a room apart from others, a hidden cabin to rest in. I wanted to be in a redwood forest with trees so tall the owls called out in the daytime.” ~ Linda Hogan from “Dwellings”

I think that I’ll probably spend the rest of the afternoon absorbed in another book. I still feel a real lack of energy, and my concentration is not strong, so it would not be a good day to tackle the taxes, too likely to make stupid mistakes.

I do wish that Eamonn would complete his paperwork for his merchant mariner’s documents, but I’m not going to nag. This has to be his decision, and he has to be the one to do the work for it. It’s hard, though.; it would be so easy for me to sit down and complete the paperwork for him, but then what would I be teaching him? That if he procrastinates long enough, Mom will do it for him?

Akseli Gallen-Kallela The Lair of the Lynx 1909
“The Lair of the Lynx” (1909, oil on canvas)
Akseli Gallen-Kallela

Not good. Not acceptable.

Still, my need to take care of things for my children threatens to come to the forefront all of the time, but if I am to be honest, that need is selfish as it allows me to rescue them, and perhaps they don’t need rescuing, at least not in the way that they did years ago. Perhaps if left to their own devices they will do just fine. It’s such a weird balancing act, this whole parenting thing, how to know when to and when not to, how to decide when help is more hindrance and when help is truly helpful.

I know that I was fortunate in that my parents helped me tremendously when I was my kids’ ages, but at the same time, I had a very, very strong streak of independence, and I never would have dreamed of asking my mother to fill out paper work of any kind for me. I must remember, must remind myself that they are not me. And how wonderful that they are not.

More later. Peace.

Music by Morcheeba, “Crimson”

                   

This Hour and What Is Dead

Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking
through bare rooms over my head,
opening and closing doors.
What could he be looking for in an empty house?
What could he possibly need there in heaven?
Does he remember his earth, his birthplace set to torches?
His love for me feels like spilled water
running back to its vessel.

At this hour, what is dead is restless
and what is living is burning.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

My father keeps a light on by our bed
and readies for our journey.
He mends ten holes in the knees
of five pairs of boy’s pants.
His love for me is like his sewing:
various colors and too much thread,
the stitching uneven, But the needle pierces
clean through with each stroke of his hand.

And this hour, what is dead is worried
and what is living is fugitive.

Someone tell him he should sleep now.

God, that old furnace, keeps talking
with his mouth of teeth,
a beard stained at feasts, and his breath
of gasoline, airplane, human ash.
His love for me feels like fire,
feels like doves, feels like river-water.

At this hour, what is dead is helpless, kind
and helpless. While the Lord lives.

Someone tell the Lord to leave me alone.
I’ve had enough of his love
that feels like burning and flight and running away.

~ Li-Young Lee

“Deliberate violence is more to be quenched than a fire.” ~ Heraclitus

                   

“We decry violence all the time in this country, but look at our history. We were born in a violent revolution, and we’ve been in wars ever since. We’re not a pacific people.” ~ James Lee Burke

I just don’t understand. I don’t understand what is going on in this country. No other country in the world has nearly as much gun violence. And don’t talk to me about second amendment rights. Do you really need automatic weapons to bring down a deer? Please.

Every time this happens—and that statement itself reveals far too much (as in it has happened too many times and it continues to happen)—we starts to make comments about what we can do to prevent this, and then a month later, nothing has been done, and nothing will be done.

And by the way, more than 50 percent of NRA members agree that background checks are a necessary precaution, and in that vein, agree that the gun show loophole needs to be closed.

No, this maniac did not buy his guns. He got them from someone in his family. But still, he had access to weapons that are not used for hunting. These were weapons whose purpose is to kill, wound, maim human beings. And don’t even say that if he hadn’t had a gun, he would have used something else. Could he have killed 20 children that quickly with say, a brick?

I’m tired of your arguments. I’m tired of the Charlton Heston attitude of prying my gun from my cold dead hands. I’m tired of what we do to one another. I’m tired of nothing of any consequence ever being done by any administration because the people in charge of the NRA are myopic, and apparently everyone is afraid of them. I’m tired of hearing that “now is not the time to have a discussion on gun control.”

If not now, then when? When the next school massacre occurs? We did nothing of consequence after Aurora. We even did nothing of consequence after Virginia Tech. We continue to do nothing.

NOTHING.

“So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.” ~ Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

Other countries who allow handguns do not have the kind of violence that we have. Consider Israel, a pretty violence country, all things considered, had 58 handgun deaths last year. Compared to our country’s 10,728 handgun deaths, that’s 185 times more deaths. Is anyone else bothered by this math?

What makes us such a violent society? Video games? Movies like Batman? Pshaw. You and I both know that that’s simply not it. We are violent because we have this innate belief that we are superior to everyone else, and in that position of superiority, we do not hold ourselves to the same standards as the rest of the world. We have different rules in the U.S. because, well, just because we can, I suppose.

We do not love one another. We do not respect one another, and we certainly do not care about one another. We have rampant poverty. We have children who are starving. We have families who live in cars. But we are an advanced super power.

I’ve had it. I am so sick of the party line, whichever party it is. We have a real problem in this country, and until we face up to it, nothing is going to change.

NOTHING.

More from Adam Gopnik:

The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.

All of that is a truth, plain and simple, and recognized throughout the world. At some point, this truth may become so bloody obvious that we will know it, too. Meanwhile, congratulate yourself on living in the child-gun-massacre capital of the known universe.

The pervasive attitude of I’ve got mine, to hell with the rest of you? It’s killing our souls.

People, he walked in and deliberately targeted kindergarten students. Does that not say something to you? Does that not speak to your very moral fiber?

I know that my rant is all over the place. For more studied and better developed commentary, take a look at the links below.

I also know that I haven’t really made any kind of cogent argument here. I don’t care, I tell you. I just don’t care. And you know what else? I would bet my mortgage money that this time next month, even six months from now, that the changes we are clamoring for, the reforms that we say are needed, that what we will see will be

NOTHING.

                   

In the Loop

I heard from people after the shootings. People
I knew well or barely or not at all. Largely
the same message: how horrible it was, how little
there was to say about how horrible it was.
People wrote, called, mostly e-mailed
because they know I teach at Virginia Tech,
to say, there’s nothing to say. Eventually
I answered these messages: there’s nothing
to say back except of course there’s nothing
to say, thank you for your willingness
to say it. Because this was about nothing.
A boy who felt that he was nothing,
who erased and entered that erasure, and guns
that are good for nothing, and talk of guns
that is good for nothing, and spring
that is good for flowers, and Jesus for some,
and scotch for others, and “and” for me
in this poem, “and” that is good
for sewing the minutes together, which otherwise
go about going away, bereft of us and us
of them. Like a scarf left on a train and nothing
like a scarf left on a train. As if the train,
empty of everything but a scarf, still opens
its doors at every stop, because this
is what a train does, this is what a man does
with his hand on a lever, because otherwise,
why the lever, why the hand, and then it was over,
and then it had just begun.