Refine. Hone. Distill. The self is a text, too.
This is not what I usually do here.
Just a few months ago, in this page’s first post, I said that my purpose was to talk about editing, writing, reading — about the English language and how my fascination with it has molded me into the professional that I am. Topics like education, literacy, art, creativity, and storytelling intersect here from my particular perspective of narration. This is not a place where I choose to air my political positions or anything too far removed from the written word. However, in the wake of Sandy Hook’s slaughter, I have to step outside of my usual arena and address that which has been weighing so heavily on my mind.
It seems that, recently, everywhere I turn, I’m reading something about gun violence and innocent victims, even if it’s in a neighborhood bulletin. In Detroit, two men fired at one another in a dispute over Kool-Aid, and, although neither of them were hurt, they shot two bystanders. Pittsburgh’s City Paper mentioned the story in its News of the Weird, but it’s not weird; in some way we find it humorous that such extreme action was taken over something so frivolous, but really, it’s appalling. It’s frightening that turning to such a destructive weapon has become almost quotidian, and for the most trivial of reasons. Like the argument over cigarettes that left a young mother dead less than two weeks ago. Police are still seeking two fourteen-year-old boys in conjunction with that shooting. And then a 20-year-old man kills nearly thirty people — most of them young children — and this time we get no explanation, not even something as absurd as cigarettes and children’s beverages.
In the wake of horror that expands to this magnitude, I know that there are opinions and variables without end. I will freely admit that there is no single answer to the American battle over firearms and the tragedies that their existence allows. But I need to ask: How have we gotten here? I am hardly able to fathom all of the factors at work, but I find myself agreeing with an article that points to American disconnect, to our culture of relentless self-achievement and materialistic worth-measuring, pressuring each person to keep up and isolating us in competition with one another. I see all of the ways in which empathy and compassion based on mutual humanity are being dissolved. As we relentlessly reinforce self-esteem and self-respect, it’s turning into self-indulgence, self-justification, and finally self-satisfaction at all costs. We combine this solipsistic perspective with the desensitization of the media grinding-stone and the proliferation of a system that, while upholding the family unit as an integral and unassailable element of American society, actually diminishes our capacity to cultivate a stable home-life as we struggle to afford healthcare or quality food and education.
Our problem has become such a massive and complicated network of negative factors feeding and supporting one another that I am overwhelmed, and this sentiment echoes through the other writing that has come out of the Sandy Hook massacre. There’s the mother whose blog, labeling herself metaphorically as Adam Lanza’s mother, has drawn attention to the reality of living with a child whose nature isn’t yielding to nurture, and who exhibits an absence of respect for human life characteristic of shooters whose names have become synonymous with mass carnage. This woman’s story exudes desperation as a slew of diagnoses and prescriptions produce no change and she flounders in a system that has neither the understanding nor the resources to help her. There’s the journalist who writes about her own experience of being a first-grader in 1988 when a shooter killed a child in her school. At the time, it was possible to consider that incident an aberration, but now her voice is among those asking, “why have we become a society so full of pain, hate and rage that hurting innocents has perversely come to seem normal? Why have we not heeded warnings that something is terribly wrong?” And I agree with her when she admits that, “This goes beyond mental illness and gun control. This is a deep, festering wound.”
I wish that there were a profound “in conclusion” to offer here, like I prompt my students: When you present a problem, follow it up with a solution or alternative perspective. Unfortunately, the situation in which we find ourselves, as a nation with a disturbing and specific trend of violence, is something far beyond the reach of one blog by one woman whose main goal is to convince people that maybe language and writing and reading really do matter. However, since I believe in the power of the written word and in the human ability to communicate and influence one another, I do not think that this is a situation beyond the reach of many blogs and many voices. I know that there are still more stories and more calls for consciousness out there, and I’m still reading. I’ve added my voice to the chorus that I hope becomes enough of a cacophony that it cannot be ignored, and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ll add your voice; leave a comment, write a blog, pass on something that you read. We cannot even hope for change if we are unwilling to participate.