There is just so, so much to cover. I can’t even keep track of it all. Stuff I need to write about:
- misogyny online
- quantum physics and how it pertains to ALS
- trigger warnings
- national dog day
- Jon Stewart/John Oliver/Stephen Colbert
- the Confederate flag
- probably religion is due
- antidepressant update
How bout let’s go for a twofer.
Went for a walk today with Gretchen, wanting to check out the South Side, Carson Street to be specific. I’d been down there the other night to write, stopped at a coffee shop and a hookah bar and wanted to see what else they’ve got going for them, namely because my birthday is coming up in a month give or take and I need a Thursday karaoke destination that won’t require me to turn my first born over to Uber afterward.
We sat down for a steak sandwich. Gretchen asked if I’d heard about Virginia today. Anymore this is turning into madlibs for conversation starters, in terms of gun violence. Did you hear about (state) today? (Number of) people were shot. They got it on (type of video). I told her yes I’d heard, no I didn’t watch it, after that Cincinnati campus cop and the South Carolina in-the-back-while-running-away cop I’m done with murder videos for a while, thanks. She says, Apparently he was live-tweeting it. I said oh my god. No I didn’t hear that part. Which nearly sent me into a introvert spiral, that fact, that this is the country we live in now, this is the society, this is how we do, but no, I resist it, I’m waiting for my cajun-seasoned meal, trying to think more about the weather, honest to god.
The local news was on the bar’s television. Not a minute later I glance up at it and see a handgun, first-person perspective, firing at a woman and I know I just saw the footage without asking to see it, without being warned I was about to see it. Then they show who is apparently the killer and then the killer’s Facebook page saying something to the effect of hey look guys I caught the whole thing on video myself, because I was fed up, I was justified, and posterity will thank me.
Now, for me, the trigger is not the violence. I have been, far as I can tell, completely desensitized to violence over the years. My brain even lusts after it, to an extent, in movies and entertainment. Tonight when we got home, we watched Planet Earth: Shallow Seas, and there’s a part where a fur seal is attacking these penguins, and Gretchen was very put out by this, but I was like, what, this is nature, this is what happens. As the seal, like my pit bull with his toy football, is whipping these birds back and forth by the neck, trying to severe a vertebra or two and render swift death. I do not react to blood. Human, penguin or otherwise. I occasionally will turn away to joint or ligament damage replays on sports telecasts because I’ve had my shoulder out of socket and the pain — after six hours — was such a life-altering event that I can’t always completely block that out. But most pain, no. Violence, no. Death, no. I’m not afraid of it.
For me, seeing someone murdered on television via handgun triggers my mental bile reflex because of the avalanche of stupidity that will inevitably follow. And I don’t mean stupidity, I guess, so much as a clear and discernible lack of empathy, by everyone, for everyone involved in this. (Although stupidity too, because guns kill people, they have no other function, this is why armies carry them into wars because they end lives and that’s how wars are won, you want to handle firearms go join the fucking army and if that’s a bridge too far then excuse yourself from the social contract right now and give up your money and your possessions and your safety and your relatively secure future which includes the high likelihood you’ll get the unbelievable privilege to die in a sanitary hospital bed from some preventable disease you’ve brought upon yourself watching reruns of any show, any fucking show you like, while your liver fails and you ride the morphine train out of this existence, please, and I’m serious, give all that up and go take your murder machine and live in the woods with zero human contact except for those other insane lead-lovers who will be keeping your head in the crosshairs hoping to gain access to your particular tree dwelling, because you cannot, you cannot have both, we cannot have both.)
The first-person perspective of it really rocked me, as if I don’t grant empathy enough to killers, because dear god why, my brain must know, what could have possibly led you to this. It’s a problem the killers themselves rarely will be consciously aware of, despite what they say. Gretchen said, just before the footage caught me unawares, that his coworkers had referred to black people as monkeys. Then the news was showing some of his own rationalizations, accessed all too easily via social media, about how the South Carolina church shooting was the last straw, but I mean really? Is that as deep as our empathy reserves go, we think this is the answer to the why? Because he said so, this is the be-all end-all of truth? This is not Hollywood, this fucker was no John McClain, die-harding his way to redemption, not even in his own mind. The hero doesn’t off himself at the end of the movie, because the hero knows he’s the hero, and this guy knew he was the villain.
I’m not here to say I know why he did it, and I’m not trying to suggest race was not involved, because it certainly was, probably on multiple levels and probably most of which injustices he wouldn’t have even put into his top five because he’s experienced them all his life and they don’t even register anymore. This was a hasty, poorly thought-out plan made all too easy because of access to a firearm. The real question, beyond the obvious one about GUNS GUNS GUNS EVERYWHERE GUNS WHY ALL THE GUNS, is the one that requires some empathy. You don’t do the most extreme thing until you believe it’s the last option. What made him believe that? How did he wind up in this situation? All I’m really trying to say here is who the fuck is going to be responsible for trying to figure all of that out? Especially after the next handgun murder goes viral tomorrow? And the one after that, etc.
I did not want to think about this today. Which isn’t to say I’m special, or something like that, like this is someone else’s problem, because it’s everyone’s problem, this non-stop gun violence in this country, that’s the answer to the question above, about responsibility and such, is everyone. Me included. Why it happens, why it continues to happen, and the role the easy access to handguns plays in it. Everybody who participates in this society should be trying to empathize as hard as they fucking can on this, trying to figure it out. But not at dinner. Not over french fries and hot sauce sitting on the patio of a restaurant you’ve never been to trying to have a pleasant evening with your girlfriend. I did my due diligence on it this morning. I read the news, I saw it had happened, I wanted to ponder on it, I was planning to ponder on it like I am now, here, at night, in front of my keyboard with my cats watching my back until I can’t do it anymore and then go to bed and watch cartoons via Netflix because I pay them a subscription fee that allows me that option for falling asleep. When I was ready, though, when I had some thoughts prepared and written out, I do believe it is my responsibility to give them voice, because it contributes, because it betters, this is how we grow. You get it.
Same goes for the classroom. Your job there is to confront what necessary subject matter will grant you an education, as deemed by whatever college you signed up to attend, whatever that instructor says is an education. This is your new society, this is your contract. Or, if you disagreed with that instructor or that college’s idea of an education, the next one you picked, that’s your new contract. All of this is your job as a student, to find the right class, the right teacher, the right major, whatever, that’s on you. What is not your fault: being a woman on a college campus. Being part of the one-in-three who will experience sexual violence in college, or the 100% who will know someone who does. It is not your fault if you’re trying to do your homework and you read a classic novel you know nothing about and suddenly there’s a horrific rape scene and you’re now a mental wreck for the rest of the night, despite the important themes and symbolism that go along with that awfulness which you’re supposed to be writing a paper on, but can’t, because you watched your friend Julie get into the car with those guys after that night-of-too-many-shots and now even though she won’t confirm anything she hasn’t been the same since. And this is something you’ve had to deal with as a human being who has to deal with things, yes, we all live hard lives. But we need the right to confront our demons on our own terms, on our own time, and not suddenly, unexpectedly, in a lecture hall surrounded by strangers and under the watching eyes of the pompous prick who thought his experience of the novel’s graphic violence would be the same as yours, and who holds not a small amount of your future in his hands, and, by the way, is probably someone you look up to at least a little, enough to stay in his class after that first week, anyway.
This is not emotional coddling. This is not granting exceptions to a whiny, spoiled generation. This, again, is common fucking empathy. If you’re too afraid of your students to teach what you want, but teach it responsibly, you don’t belong at the front of a classroom in the first place. And if I see one more person post that goddamn Atlantic article with some “finally somebody said it” type comment to accompany it, I’m going on a defriending rampage, I swear to god.