A Black Bag

This is going to be exceedingly short. I’m trying to keep writing through the noise.  Lately the feed seems pretty relentless. It seems like terrible is the new black.

My heart goes out to the people of Boston and to all the people of the world especially those who were there to participate in one of our most democratic sporting events or to cheer the runners on. My heart goes out to the people of North and South Korea, to the people of West, Texas, to the people of Syria, to today’s victims of gun violence. I could go on.

I have lots of thoughts about Boston bombings, especially in light of social media and the news coverage. I don’t watch any news off the television anymore, pulling it instead from Google News, Twitter, AP, Reuters, The Guardian, the LA and NY Times (at least until I hit their paywall). 

It seems that, with the Boston bombings, the old school model of journalism is collapsing into something else. The Boston marathon is one of the most highly recorded events. And now millions of people, in Boston and around the world, are connected to this story through the internet. We can all see the videos and pictures and we all get to wade through a sea of conflicting facts as the story emerges. There are already truthers and conspiracy theories. And then there’s the edgy crowd sourcing of the visual evidence by interested parties such as Redditors and 4Chan. This kind of event seems suited to the large cooperative effort of a crowd. But a crowd is just a mob in a good mood and it’s hard not to feel that we stand on the very precipice of vigilantism – especially if you read the comments section at the bottom of, let’s just say, any article. 

From Gawker’s: Your Guide to The Boston Marathon BombingAmateur Internet Crowd-Sleuthing

How is our world different when we are all witnesses to an act of mayhem like this? By witnessing, are we driven to participate in a solution or to tell ourselves that’s what we’re doing when we’re online? These questions are the stuff of a much longer post, but one that will have to wait since I’m working on a story that needs to be finished. 

And that’s more important, because I believe in the healing power of art, and in the subversive nature of literature, to speak truth to the dark powers of chaos that sometimes look like they might swallow us whole.

It’s hard to write through this stuff. But writing stories is what I do, so that’s what I must do. You can bet I’ll keep watching the news because what happens out in the world will need to be inside my next story.

Working the Problem: Guns in America

Saturn devouring his Son
by Franscisco Goya

I haven’t been able to write a word of fiction since last Friday. I will return to my work, but today I’m hijacking my blog to talk about guns. My youngest daughter is seven and all this week, when I look at her, she is surrounded by the ghosts of those 20 massacred children and by the adults who sacrificed their lives for them. The heartbreak of their parents and loved ones has accompanied me on all my last minute holiday errands. I think of the horror and helplessness of the first responders and my heart aches for the whole broken community.

I feel like this nation is devouring itself. Like Goya’s disturbing picture of Saturn (the Greeks called him  Cronus) who, fearing that his children would overthrow him, devoured them. The media is partisan, politics has devolved to brinksmanship. And dialogue or debate on any important topic is too often drowned out by voices that scream the same tired talking points, like accusations, at the other side. 

Gary Wills in the New York Review of Books begins to articulate our sick relationship to guns in his essay titled “Our Moloch

“That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year). “

Attending the sorrow that I feel for those families in Newtown, and for those killed every day in America, is the realization that my inaction makes me culpable. 

In response to Newton The Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Off the Shelf featured a poem by Dan Beachy-Quick. 

This is not a poem of comfort. 

The poem begins at about 3:40, but the whole thing is less then eight minutes long and the preamble is informative. In the introduction Curtis Fox explains that the poem draws from the Euripides play about Hercules where:

“A god inflicts him with the madness that leads him to kill his wife and three sons, it’s not a tumor it’s not his father, its a god. Hercules didn’t recognize his family and thought they were his enemies. A chorus of old men looks on helplessly as they tell us what’s going on, not unlike our media today.”

It is a poem that looks at madness and murder. In it I see the madmen who reap mayhem in our malls and movie theaters, in our schools and holy places. In this poem I also see everyone else, all of us who everyday create the world we and our children live in. In it I see myself.

by Dan Beachy-Quick 

I have no interest in the extremes on either end of this argument. While we should be free to own guns, we should also be free to go safely into gun free zones. I believe that we can regulate ourselves as a society so that we do not have to retreat into a bunker mentality where every public space is filled with criminals, madmen and armed vigilantes. 

There are so many things that we cannot control in this world but there are many things which we can. We make the world for our children. To make a world worthy of them, we have to become adults.

Adults who participate in real and candid dialogue. The kind of discussion you engage in with others when everybody is interested in SOLVING a problem, not just getting their own way. We’ve solved many highly complex problems. That kind of invention, innoviation, and stubbornness is the American way, right?

“Wake up anybody you need and get them in here.
Let’s work the problem, people.
Let’s not make things worse by guessin’.” 
-Ed Harris as Gene Kranz in Apollo 13

Gene Kranz working the problem