“A heinous act of mass murder — either by terrorists or by some psychotic who should have been locked up long ago — will be the pretext to unleash a tsunami of gun control.” ~ Wayne LaPierre, NRA EVP/CEO, from a 2013 op-ed

The 10,000 square foot mansion the LaPierres wanted the NRA to purchase for them in 2018

“They’re sending out requests for money, saying they might go bankrupt in their legal fight with New York. They’re going through all of this drama of saying they need money, while they are spending money on all these things that can’t even be justified.” ~ ROB PINCUS, Gun Rights Advocate

Saturday evening, sunny, and warm, 83 degrees.

I’ve been working on this post since this morning, and it’s now after 8 p.m., so I’m dog tired and hurt all over. Just thought I’d share that tidbit.

NRA Insignias/Getty Images

So you are a proud member of the NRA. Fine, truly. It’s your right as an American citizen to belong to anything you choose. I may not agree with you, but that’s my right as an American citizen. We get to disagree about things. Again, a free and open society allows for that. Here’s hoping we continue to be a free and open society for many years to come, a society that endorses freedom of the press and your right to be a safe gun owner.

But allow me to elucidate for you a few NRA facts about which you may be unfamiliar, a few facts about exactly how the NRA spends your membership dues. You may be surprised . . . or maybe not. But first, a few background facts about the organization.

“It is imperative that the NRA cleans its own house . . .” ~ Lt. Col. Allen West, Ret., NRA Board Member, in a blog post (May 14, 2019)

NRA Background Information:

  • The NRA was co-founded in 1871 by William Conant Church and Captain George Wood Wingate. Prior to 1970, the organization was primarily non-partisan, but during the 1970s it became increasingly aligned with the Republican party.
  • This nonprofit group (501c4) has an annual revenue of around $400 million and enjoys tax-exempt status as a “social welfare” organization. As such, it is not required to disclose its donors. It is, however, required to file a tax return declaring its revenue sources, which includes membership dues.
  • Wayne LaPierre was appointed executive vice president in 1991 and still serves as CEO. But did you know that LaPierre’s early career included working for Democratic lawmakers in Virginia? Irony, huh?
  • Nine US presidents have been NRA members. In addition to Grant, they are: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush (who resigned in 1995), and Donald Trump. Three US vice presidents, two chief justices of the US Supreme Court, and several US congressmen, as well as legislators and officials of state governments are members.
  • NRA membership dues after 2018 hike: Regular membership fees when not running promotions: annual $45, two-year $75, three-year $100, five-year $150 and lifetime memberships $1500, 60 monthly payments of $25 (Interestingly, these rates differ depending upon which site you are exploring, but I got my information directly from the NRA site.)
  • Since 2013, the NRA has cited is membership as being around 5 million.
  • According to Newsweek and multiple sources, the NRA’s membership typically gets a boost after tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
  • The NRA received twice as much money from nearly five times as many donors in the seven days after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting than it did in the seven days before the shooting.
  • Even though a Quinnipiac poll conducted in the days after February’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting showed 97 percent of surveyed gun owners support universal background checks for gun purchases, the NRA still opposes such legislation.
  • According to Rick Newman on Yahoo Finance: The NRA’s political spending takes two forms: money spent on lobbying, and money spent on elections, whether direct donations to candidates or spending on their behalf through a political-action committee. Required disclosure forms show spending of $5.1 million on lobbying and $54 million on elections, or $59.1 million total.
  • According to an article by Mike Spies in The New Yorker, the NRA has “reduced spending on its avowed core mission—gun education, safety, and training—to less than ten per cent of its total budget, but it has substantially increased its spending on messaging.”
  • The NRA receives most of its income—$164 million in 2016—from dues paid by its  members, and contributions, including money donated to its political-action committees, brought in another $104 million in 2016.
“I can think of no other non-profit organization that compensates their Executive Vice President the kind of salary and benefits that Mr. Lapierre gets relative to how much employees receive. I also cannot understand how a person like Mr. Lapierre treats the people that work for him like his own personal indentured servants . . . ” ~ Andy Lander, former NRA employee of 13 years in an open letter

Facts of which you may be unaware regarding questionable NRA membership totals and expenditures by the upper echelon of the organization:

On NRA membership, real and not-so-real:

  • Banners of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, Chris Cox, and Dana Loesch outside at the organization’s annual convention in Dallas in 2018 (Justin Sullivan/Getty) Does anyone else find these banners slightly frightening? No. Just me?

    A Newsweek review of the tax exempt records, known as 990 filings (full text of 990 from 2015 here, and 2017 here), shows wild fluctuation in membership numbers from year to year, but also an overall decline in membership revenue between 2007 and 2016.

  • According to an article in The Trace, there was a  “22 percent drop in membership revenue—from $163 million in 2016 to $128 million in 2017. Dues from members accounted for just 40 percent of the NRA’s total revenue in 2017 — the lowest percentage in a decade.”
  • Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, said the group uses a few other tricks to pad its numbers: counting lifetime members who have died, counting annual members whose memberships have lapsed in the 13 month: “one method he and his colleagues used was to continue counting annual members on its rolls even after their membership lapsed, at least for another month, in hopes they would renew.”

On the big, big costs associated with keeping the EVP/CEO:

  • NRA EVP/CEO Wayne LaPierre: I want it all . . . now . . .

    CEO Wayne LaPierre, gets paid very well. In 2015, the last year for which the group’s tax return is available, LaPierre earned $5.1 million in total compensation. That’s more than the CEOs of Alaska Air, CME Group, Church & Dwight, Dish Network or Garmin earned that year.

  • A comprehensive article in Business Insider states that “in 2017, the most recent year available, NRA paid LaPierre a salary of $1,366,688, plus an additional $67,289 in ‘other compensation from the organization and related organizations,'” according to the company’s 2017 990 tax form. That brings his total compensation that year to $1,433,977.
  • In 2015, the NRA paid a one-time $3,767,345 supplemental retirement payment to LaPierre, which will become even more startling later in the post.
  • La Pierre will continue to earn a salary even after leaving the NRA. State records show that LaPierre’s contract “provides for consulting services and personal appearances upon the end of his employment, at an annual rate that starts at his currently contracted final base salary and is later reduced.”
  • An article on the NPR site by Tim Mark states that “of the more than 600 organizations that Charity Watch tracks, LaPierre is the eighth-highest compensated nonprofit leader in the country.
“The litany of red flags is just extraordinary.” ~ Marc Owens, former head of the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt enterprises

A Pro Publica article contends that in July 2018, a half-dozen of the organization’s accountants produced a document detailing the most egregious issues that needed to be addressed by the audit committee tasked with conducting NRA fiscal oversight. The audit committee document was part of an effort by NRA accountants last year to address a broad array of questionable transactions and business arrangements that they believed could threaten the organization’s tax-exempt status.

The “List of Top Concerns for the Audit Committee” details a range of questionable transactions and business arrangements involving several top NRA vendors and executives. Violations of the organizations procedures and policies included hiring staff without HR knowledge, reimbursement of living expenses beyond HR policies.

The transactions involved top NRA executives, favored vendors, and consultants, including Josh Powell, LaPierre’s former chief of staff. The organization’s 2017 tax filings revealed that Powell had racked up more than a hundred thousand dollars in personal expenses—including a housing allowance—paid by the NRA.

That being said, it appears that the biggest infractions came from the very top.

On LaPierre’s Questionable Expenses:

  • A leaked document shows that LaPierre likes his clothes—for purchases dating back to 2004 From the Zegna boutique in Beverly Hills the total for designer suits was $274,695.
  • Fox News reports that the CEO billed the group’s outside ad agency $39,000 for one day of shopping at a Beverly Hills clothing boutique, $18,300 for a car and driver in Europe and had the agency cover $13,800 in rent for a summer intern, according to newly revealed NRA internal documents.

    went on vacation just after the Sandy Hook, CN, massacre of school children
  • Among the travel expenses billed to the NRA’s former ad agency are more than $200,000 in “Air Transportation” costs during a one-month period in late 2012 and early 2013, in part related to a two-week trip over Christmas to the Bahamas.
  • The Fox News article also states that “The documents, posted anonymously on the internet, provide new details of the clothing, travel and other expenses totaling more than $542,000 that Ackerman McQueen Inc. alleges Mr. LaPierre billed to it. (The NRA is now in litigation with its former ad agency)
  • LaPierre charged the NRA’s ad agency $39,947 for a private jet to Eleuthera just three days after the Sandyhook Massacre and then $29,100 for a plane from Nassau, Bahamas, to Dallas, Texas.
  • But it wasn’t all vacations and travel expenses for LaPierre and his spouse: The NRA also spent tens of thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses for hair and makeup artists for Susan LaPierre.
“This is like the worst kind of corporate waste because buying the house does nothing to advance the interests of the NRA. How can you explain that? It’s not like he’s been underpaid.” ~ Daniel Kurtz, New York attorney specializing in non-profit law

About that nine-bathroom house on the golf course:

  • The Wall Street Journal reported in August 2019 that in 2018 LaPierre was in talks with the NRA’s former ad agency, Ackerman McQueen, to facilitate the purchase of a 10,000 suqare foot house in Dallas that was priced at $6.2 million at the time: “The discussions about the house purchase occurred early last year, shortly after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. Mr. LaPierre was concerned about his security and was interested in another residence besides his publicly known address in northern Virginia.” (Oh irony, thy name is LaPierre…….)
  • LaPierre’s wife, Susan, did quibble with one design detail, according to an email The Post reviewed. She thought the men’s closet may not be large enough.
  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight.”
  • An aside: Before the big falling out and all of the drama, Ackerman and McQueen had a 38-year relationship with the NRA, and in 2017 (the most recent available records), the NRA paid the ad agency and its affiliates over $40 million. This relationship could be a post all by itself, and that’s not even getting into the whole Ollie North aspect.
  • Ackerman says they were setting up an LLC, WBB Investments, for LaPierre so that his home buying would not become public.
  • Even though the NRA claims that not a dime of its money was spent on the proposed purchase, a good faith check for $70,000 was in fact wired to WBB Investments towards the home’s purchase.
Check from NRA to WSB Investments, LLC for $70K

And finally, did you want that coffee with or without the retirement option:

Remember that insignificant sum of $3,767,345 the NRA paid into LaPierre’s retirement fund in 2015?

NRA Annual Meeting
  • According to the NPR article, a copy of 2019 National Rifle Association pension documents obtained from a source showed that the NRA’s pension obligations were approximately $134 million at the beginning of this year, but they had only set aside $93 million to meet those obligations.
  • FYI: There are 786 people in the NRA’s pension plan, of which 223 are currently employed by the organization. The company has underfunded pensions affecting hundreds of former and current employees—even as LaPierre made $1.4 million in 2017, according to the group’s most recent financial disclosures.
  • An article on The Trace states that even though hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed to a number of NRA executives, board members, and vendors through sweetheart deals and opaque financial vehicles, to cut costs, the organization froze contributions to employees’ pension plans and even eliminated free coffee at its headquarters.
  • Perhaps the coffee cutback is only a reflection of the bigger cash problem facing the NRA. In May, they sued New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, claiming that the state’s zealous regulatory efforts against its Carry Guard insurance program had cost the NRA “tens of millions of dollars” in lost revenue, legal fees, and other damages.

So that’s just a capsule of how the NRA gets and spends some of its money, and granted, this post ended up being much longer than I had anticipated. What I take away from this is perhaps three things: Bloating at the top of organizations seems to be universal, and those in charge tend to forget all of the people they stepped on to get there. Second, the original mission of the NRA has been lost (advancing rifle marksmanship). Gun education and safety falls somewhere in the bottom of priorities.

And finally, and this is good news for those of us who really are against the organization’s upper echelon and the out-of-touch messaging, their belt tightening has affected their political spending:  The group shelled out just under $10 million on House and Senate candidates in 2018—less than half of what it spent on congressional races in 2014 and 2016 (emphasis mine).

(The above information can be found anywhere on the internet, but I’ve tried to use as many sources as possible so as to be thorough and as unbiased as I can be when discussing the NRA. I’ve also sought the original documents that were leaked on the web. All links are included unless a statement is considered common knowledge.
Tomorrow’s companion post will focus on the downfall of NRA TV.

 

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“Unfortunately, I seem rather short of tears, so my sorrows have to stay inside me.” ~ Nadine Gordimer, Interview in The Guardian (9 March 2012)

Nadine Gordimer 1981 BBC
Nadine Gordimer (BBC, 1981)

Goodbye Nadine Gordimer
(November 12, 1923 – July 14, 2014)

I’m fairly certain that I learned of Gordimer through Mari. As usual, she was so right in her recommendations. Gordimer’s work was simply beautiful, her mastery of language enviable. In 1991, Gordimer wond the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was the first South African to win, and the first woman in 25 years to win. Gordimer was an outspoken opponent of apartheid, and as a result, three of her books were banned in her country. In 1991, Los Angeles Times correspondent Scott Kraft said of Gordimer that “this unassuming, strong-willed white woman has used her manual Hermes typewriter to give the world some of the most perceptive and uncompromising works of fiction ever written about her homeland, South Africa.” After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela asked to meet with Gordimer. Here is a link to Gordimer’s essay on Nelson Mandela, which appeared in the New Yorker in 2013.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from the Nobel Laureate:

“I’m a candle flame that sways in currents of air you can’t see. You need to be the one who steadies me to burn.” (from The House Gun)

“At four in the afternoon the old moon bleeds radiance into the grey sky.” (from “My Father Leaves Home”)

“The truth isn’t always beauty, but the hunger for it is.” (from “A Bolter and the Invincible Summer”)

“Any writer of any worth at all hopes to play only a pocket-torch of light — and rarely, through genius, a sudden flambeau — into the bloody yet beautiful labyrinth of human experience, of being.” (from “Writing and Being,” Nobel Lecture, 1991)

“A desert is a place without expectation.” (from “Telling Times”)

“I never thought about the prize [Nobel] when I wrote. Writing is not a horse race.” (after learning that she had won in 1991)


Here are some links:

The Guardian’s obituary

The New York Times obituary

Obituary in The Telegraph

Online archive of short stories in The New Yorker

Art of Fiction No. 77, Paris Review (Fall 1979/Spring 1980)

 

 

April is National Poetry Month

519-521 North Third Street by VCU Libraries c1978
519-521 North Third Street
by VCU Libraries (c1978)

The One Who Disappeared

Now that it’s warm to sit on the porch at night
Someone happened to remember a neighbor
Though it had been more than thirty years
Since she went for a little walk after dinner
And never came back to her husband and children.

No one present could recall much about her,
Except how she’d smile and grow thoughtful
All of a sudden and would not say what about,
When asked, as if she already carried a secret,
Or was heartbroken that she didn’t have one.

~ Charles Simic (The New Yorker, April 7, 2014)

Ran across this tidbit in The New Yorker (originally posted December) after reading a wonderful reflections piece by David Sedaris, Now We are Five

Backblogged: Our Five Favorite Sentences of the Week

Posted by otoole-580.jpg.jpeg

“Like many stars, he was actually twin stars, fused together; within his nature, the gentleman cohabited with the fearful rake, just as, within his Lawrence, something fey and dreamy, bordering dangerously on the camp, consorted with the unappeased ferocity of the warrior.” From “Postscript: Peter O’Toole,” by Anthony Lane.

“It’s like a blown-out listicle composed by someone locked inside an archival library, or a condensed epic history written by someone who understands Twitterbrain.” From “Potpourri History,” by Rachel Syme.

“This is junkie talk, making Netflix’s report feel a bit like a pusher touting the unexpected benefits of a drug to its clients.” From “Come Binge With Me,” by Ian Crouch.

“It is supposedly often the mob on the street that is passionate and unruly; but in this story, the public is sitting down reading decisions and documents and diagrams of how data-flow works, while those trained in bureaucracy melt into airy rage.” From “Why Edward Snowden Deserves Amnesty,” by Amy Davidson.

“The only consensus is that Beyoncé matters—the rest is a firefight in your pocket.” From “The Death Drive,” by Sasha Frere-Jones.

Photograph by David Montgomery/Getty.

That kind of day . . .

From the New Yorker

Music by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa, “Close to My Heart”

“You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness . . . And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.” ~ Jeffrey Eugenides, from a speech to Whiting Award winners

Another sample of the kind of thing I wish someone had said to me years ago . . .

Posthumous (advice to young writers)

The following text is adapted from a speech given to the 2012 Whiting Award winners.

In his 1988 book of essays, “Prepared for the Worst,” Christopher Hitchens recalled a bit of advice given to him by the South African Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer. “A serious person should try to write posthumously,” Hitchens said, going on to explain: “By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints—of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate.” Hitchens’s untimely death last year, at the age of sixty-two, has thrown this remark into relief, pressing upon those of us who persist in writing the uncomfortable truth that anything we’re working on has the potential to be published posthumously; that death might not be far off, and that, given this disturbing reality, we might pay attention to it.

It’s not very nice of me to bring up death tonight, as we gather to celebrate ten emerging writers. Talented and accomplished as you all are, you’re just getting going, so why should I rain on your parade? Here’s why: because Gordimer’s advice about writing posthumously may be the best way to help your writing in the here-and-now. It may inoculate you against the intellectual and artistic viruses that, as you’re exposed to the literary world, will be eager to colonize your system.

All of the constraints Hitchens mentions have one thing in common: they all represent a deformation of the self. To follow literary fashion, to write for money, to censor your true feelings and thoughts or adopt ideas because they’re popular requires a writer to suppress the very promptings that got him or her writing in the first place. When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember? You were fifteen and standing beside a river in wintertime. Ice floes drifted slowly downstream. Your nose was running. Your wool hat smelled like a wet dog. Your dog, panting by your side, smelled like your hat. It was hard to distinguish. As you stood there, watching the river, an imperative communicated itself to you. You were being told to pay attention. You, the designated witness, special little teen-age omniscient you, wearing tennis shoes out in the snow, against your mother’s orders. Just then the sun came out from behind the clouds, revealing that every twig on every tree was encased in ice. The entire world a crystal chandelier that might shatter if you made a sound, so you didn’t. Even your dog knew to keep quiet. And the beauty of the world at that moment, the majestic advance of ice in the river, so like the progress of the thoughts inside your head, overwhelmed you, filling you with one desire and one desire only, which was to go home immediately and write about it.

Does that sound like you? O.K., but that’s only half the story. You’re also the college sophomore standing in a corner of a keg party in the basement of some desperate dorm. You’re standing in the corner because the light is dim. Dim light is a plus. In the hour or so before leaving your room, while you were lying on your bed innocently reading Flaubert, a zit of incomparable size and ferocity erupted in the middle of your forehead. The size of this blemish, its fiery and painful swollenness, were almost enough to keep you from coming to this party in the first place. Better to just stay in bed and read “Sentimental Education.” But there’s this person of interest you’re hoping to see at the party and you thought that maybe with a little concealer or by combing down your bangs you might be able to appear in public, so this is what you do, only to end up, sometime later, standing in the corner, feeling the zit on your forehead actually pulse, like a second heartbeat. Your friends come up to say, “Hi,” pretending not to notice. You love them for this. You begin to think that your existence on earth isn’t a total mistake when suddenly you spy the person of interest across the room. Here’s your chance. With your head down, like someone using a Geiger counter, you make your way across the room. As you pass the person of interest, you gather courage and lift your face, despite everything, but the person of interest is talking to somebody else, and so you keep on going, all the way out of the party and the dorm. And then you’re outside, under the black, unfeeling sky. In that moment there is no one as lonely, lovelorn, and unlovable as you; and yet this feeling of hopelessness mixes, oddly, with a perverse kind of hope, of resistance to the regrettable physical facts, and you’re filled with the desire to write something, to go back to your room and be like Flaubert, solitary and misanthropic and a God-damned genius.

That’s what you were probably like. I know you guys. We recognize each other.

So what I’m saying is, this is what got you here tonight: your over-stimulated, complicated, by turns ecstatic and despondent, specific self. And if you’re anything like I was when I got one of these awards, some twenty years ago, you didn’t know exactly how you did it. You write your first stuff pretty much for yourself, not thinking anybody will read, much less publish, it, not thinking it’ll earn money, therefore not worrying about pleasing anyone or falling in line with any agenda; not worrying about censoring yourself, either, because who’s going to see it? And, miraculously, it worked out. Not only did you get published but older, established writers read your stuff and nominated you for a Whiting and the selection committee met and picked you out a huge body of nominees. And so here you are tonight, in New York City, and—I don’t want to ruin your night or anything—but everything’s about to change. You’re not writing for yourself anymore. Now you’re a published author or a playwright whose one-act has been produced—and suddenly everybody thinks you’re a professional. You did it before, wrote a book, a play, a collection of poetry, so you can do it again, right? And as you begin to worry about how to do that, that’s when your immune system is at its weakest and the pathogens can make their way in.

Fashion will come at you from two directions, from outside and in. You might start noticing what’s getting attention in the press. You might begin to forget the person you are in order to write and sound like someone else. Alternately, you might be tempted to repeat yourself. To follow the fashion of your own previous work, to stop exploring, learning and trying new things, for risk of failure.

If you try to write posthumously, however, fashion doesn’t apply. You step off the catwalk, ignoring this season’s trends and resigning yourself to being unfashionable and possibly unnoticed, at least for a while. As Kurt Woolf, Kafka’s first publisher in Germany, wrote to him after Kafka’s book tanked, “You and we know that it is generally just the best and most valuable things that do not find their echo immediately.” Fashion is the attempt to evade that principle: to be the echo of someone else’s success and, therefore, to create nothing that might create an echo of its own.

The Yankees played the Detroit Tigers in the A.L.C.S. last week, to a highly satisfying conclusion, from my perspective. Doug Fister, starting right-hander for the Tigers, when asked how the team was dealing with the pressure, had something like this to say: “We just try to stay within ourselves. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, as a team. The important thing to do, as a pitcher, is I just try to stay within myself. So, yeah, when I’m out there, on the mound, in a game like that, a big game, what I’m thinking about is staying within myself. Because the important thing to do in a situation like this is, you know, to stay within yourself.”

Professional athletes aren’t always the most articulate people. Athletes are rarely nominated for a Whiting Award (though the committee might consider R.A. Dickey of the Mets next year). A lack of articulateness, however, doesn’t mean that the speaker doesn’t know what he’s talking about. A Major League pitcher is dealing with big-time pressure. Don’t discount the wisdom of “stay within yourself.” Fister knows whereof he speaks. And don’t for a minute think that you, as writers, are under any less pressure. Society at large may not recognize it, but every morning when you go to your writing desks you’re up against not the Yankees but the literary tradition, two thousand years of great works to admire, learn from, compete against, and, hopefully, expand. It’s no small task you’ve set yourself. Don’t let anybody tell you different.

The other trap you might fall into is to start thinking about money. “No one but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money,” said Samuel Johnson. Well—and I’ve never gotten to do this before—I’d like to disagree with Dr. Johnson. Once you start conceiving of your book as a commodity, you start thinking about readers as potential buyers, as customers to be lured. This makes you try to anticipate their tastes and cater to them. In doing so, you begin to depart from your own inclinations rather than respond to what the Irish novelist, Colm Toibin, has referred to as “the stuff that won’t go away.” “It seems that the essential impulse in working is … to allow what haunts you to have a voice, to chart what is deeply private and etched on the soul, and find a form and structure for it.” Facing up to what haunts you and finding a form and structure for it can never be a commercial enterprise. That stuff’s too chaotic and unpredictable, too messy and gorgeous, to fit a popular template. But it’s the source of your originality and may well prove popular in the end.

Your audience, as it grows, your need for a teaching job, the fact of being taken seriously and reviewed by people—all these things might lead you to over-analyze your words and censor them. As Adrienne Rich put it, “Lying is done with words and also with silence.” You’re too young to remember this—I’m too young to remember this—but in 1976 Vivian Gornick wrote an essay called “Why Do these Men Hate Women?” Underneath this boldfaced headline were the photos of Normal Mailer, John Updike, and Philip Roth. Mailer probably enjoyed that, but I doubt Updike and Roth did. Still, what did Philip Roth do in response to that attack? He went on to publish books like “Sabbath’s Theater,” in order to provoke such critics rather than placate them. And the important thing isn’t whether you like Philip Roth or think he’s a nice person or a misogynist or a pervert or just really funny; the important thing is that no one would dispute that Roth has continued to be the writer he had to be, a writer who has been lionized and vilified. But, let’s face it, mostly lionized.

And why do people like Roth live way out in the country, anyway? Because living in the sticks is like being dead—it’s a way of forgetting that anybody’s watching. It’s a way of writing posthumously. Better, of course, if you can do it in Brooklyn, where you can get a decent meal, but do whatever you have to do.

Equally insidious is to adopt a bien pensant manner, to make sure that everything you say is earnest and well meaning, the kind of thing Bono might put in a lyric. Piety can be another form of censorship.

You get what I’m saying. The same goes for spouting popular ideas, intellectual or otherwise, that aren’t your own. You have to watch yourself closely because it’s easy for some trendy notion to filter in. You put it in a sentence and it sounds reasonably intelligent. Then your book comes out and, out of all the thousands of words in it, that one little word gets noticed by some wag in Cobble Hill, who traces it back to the source you borrowed it from, and in that moment you feel very, very small. You feel undeserving of the privilege of being a writer, in the company of all the writers whose stringent examples you set out, long ago, to emulate.

I’m winding down now. They tell me there’s going to be a party after this. I don’t want to keep you from your rightful fun. In closing, let me say one more thing about Mr. Kafka. When Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis, in Berlin, he reacted at first with a serenity amounting almost to relief. As his health deteriorated, he became more fearful: “What I have playacted is really going to happen,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. “I have not bought myself off by my writing. I died my whole life and now I will really die.”

To die your whole life. Despite the morbidity, I can’t think of a better definition of the writing life. There’s something about writing that demands a leave-taking, an abandonment of the world, paradoxically, in order to see it clearly. This retreat has to be accomplished without severing the vital connection to the world, and to people, that feeds the imagination. It’s a difficult balance. And here is where these ruminations about writing touch on morality. The same constraints to writing well are also constraints to living fully. Not to be a slave to fashion or commerce, not to succumb to arid self-censorship, not to bow to popular opinion—what is all that but a description of the educated, enlightened life? Anyway, it’s the one you’ve chosen, the first fruits of which we’re here to honor tonight. It’s an honor for me to preside over this ceremony. I’m happy to do it in gratitude for the help the Whiting Foundation has given so many writers, including myself. I don’t remember who made the speech and read the citations my year, as you probably won’t remember me. That’s O.K. Just remember what Doug Fister of the Detroit Tigers said: “Stay within yourself.” And, most of all, don’t forget Nadine Gordimer’s advice. Don’t censor yourself. Don’t go along with the crowd. Don’t be greedy. Don’t be cheap. Young as you are, play dead—so that your eyes will stay open.

“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.