My drug of choice is writing--writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Narrative 4 "If We Outlaw Guns, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns."/"Criminals Don't Obey Laws."

Listen, this is fucking rich coming predominantly from the same group of folks that have twisted themselves into pretzels to criminalize sex work, abortion, drugs that are as mild as alcohol, and even First Amendment civil protest.

But it is also a deep post hoc fallacy. "He did it, therefore no law could have prevented it." A clever chiasmus wording does not a sound argument make.

This narrative demonstrates a breathtaking lack of awareness of how basic, fundamental laws work. When we make something contraband, we know it's still going to be out there...just not as much. We don't just pass a law making things illegal but still keep the fucking things available at every local Walmart...except now it's illegal; we also pass other laws around the whole market to create "chokepoints" that cut down on the means and opportunity of someone being able to get their hands on it if motive outweighs illegality as a deterrent.

Technically nothing is stopping me from running through a Starbucks with a war rhinoceros either, but as I begin to contemplate the logistics of such a plan (availability of rhinos, availability of rhino armor, likelihood of making it to Starbucks before being apprehended), I realize it would probably be really hard to pull off and I'd rather play Shadows of Mordor.  If I could pick up what I needed on my way home from work tomorrow, I might be more inclined to ideate this plan.

I know I could get a lawn dart if I wanted to. YOU know I could get a lawn dart. Hell, I could probably design a lawn dart if I cared enough. (I don't actually want a lawn dart, but they're out there, even though they're illegal.) But we don't just throw up our hands and say "Oh well. It's still possible to get lawn darts. Guess all laws are useless. Might as well stock them at the local CVS." I know I might get arrested for trying and the price will be really high and I can't just go to the lawn dart store that orders them from the lawn dart factory and that is the same thing that happens when laws make anything contraband.

Lastly, it's an absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous claim. It's like standing in front of one's neighborhood composed of nothing but blue houses and saying that painting houses blue simply won't work. There are several other countries that stopped this bullshit in its tracks or at least cut it down by passing laws. These laws absolutely DO work and saying they don't is being deliberately obtuse.

All these "can't put the toothpaste back in the tube" arguments try to envision a world where the only legal change is that a switch is just flipped in some room from "legal" to "illegal," and suddenly there is a flooded black market and tons of hidden weapons. And yeah...you know what? Some of that's going to happen. But acting like buyback programs and outlawing parts and ammo and seizing weapons that are found in the course of other searches or whatever won't have an impact in five to ten years is absolutely the pinnacle of tactical mendacity. It's not like "The Black Market™" has an outlet store in the strip mall on Fifth St.

Bullshit rating: Big Steaming Pile

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Narrative 3- "No Law Could Have Prevented a Determined Actor."

This is logically meaningless. It's claiming to be omniscient about causality. Bad argument, good chap. (Sips brandy.)

It would just as logical to say: "He did it, but ANY law could have prevented it." Maybe if there had been an extra stop light on the way there, he would have had that much longer to think about it and changed his mind or gotten thirsty, gone to the Subway first and met up with someone he fancied in fourth grade. The point is we don't KNOW and using that umbra of ignorance to presume that nothing could have made any difference is at least shitty critical thinking.

But perhaps more to the point is its implication. According to this logic, we should have no laws. Ever. For any reason. Because they won't stop 100% of bad things from happening and won't prevent a determined actor from doing whatever it is any way.

This is not how society societies. Hell, it's not even how humans human. From the first time Ug said to Oog, "You no eat best part of elk if no kill, or you not come next hunt," humans have understood the concept of a deterrent.

We don't throw up our hands and say "what could possibly have changed this" when children are dead. Even if it's an earthquake or tsunami or something, we STILL come up with better building codes and better preparedness.

We banned lawn darts after one kid died.

Tide pods are now in lock-up in the grocery store and have disclaimers and a bitter tasting coating after a few people went to the hospital.

I have to take my shoes off every time I fly because of that one guy with the shoe bomb twenty fucking years ago.

We didn't throw up our hands and say "What possibly could have prevented this? Certainly no law. Guess I better tweet something poignant."

We only do that with one thing: guns.

Bullshit Rating: Mammothian pile growing mushrooms out of it.

Narrative 2- "Don't Politicize It./It's too soon."

Actually...it's too late.

We should have been talking about it yesterday.

Did you know I drafted a little over half of this article in the days right after Parkland, came back after Santa Fe, started retooling it after Gilroy determined to set aside time for it after Santa Fe and Dayton. (Although Odessa had happened before I managed to start.) I did not write this in the last few days. Life kind of turned up to eleven and it's a HUGE article, so it went on the back burner. And to my horror, and this country's shame, I knew that we would be here again in time, and this article would be topical.


This is where we are as a society right now. In the umbra of absolute certitude that this is going to keep happening. Literally locked in a cycle where I can be talking about the MOST RECENT school shooting and not even miss a beat.

"Don't politicize this" after an unforeseen tragedy, by someone who shoehorns it into an agenda that is only tangentially related, is a reasonable reaction to some partisan spin and politicians with particularly cavalier moxie. Things like the PATRIOT Act with its surveillance and torture exceptions being whipped up before the country could think straight after 9/11 is politicizing a tragedy.

In August of 2002, George Bush Jr. stood in the aftermath of a wildfire while the ground was still hot from embers and announced that he was going to allow more logging so that forests would be "thinned" and nothing like this would ever happen again.

That is politicizing a tragedy.

If this were a Bascule bridge that failed every few days and sent people to their deaths, the engineer would not be politicizing it to say "NOW will you listen to me?" after each fresh death toll.

Standing in the carnage of yet another school shooting and saying "We have to stop this" is not politicizing it. And only the people callow and superficial enough to consider the slightest gun regulations a partisan issue would claim so.

Even if this weren't rich, first-rate hypocrisy from many of the same folks who cheered and "heart" reacted when their leader tweeted a snide remark about a gunner at a baseball game being a Bernie supporter on the same day that it happened, who decried the Las Vegas shooter (inaccurately as it turned out) for liking Rachel Maddow, who posted pictures of Cruz in antifa attire (also inaccurate and fake) within hours, and who (and we can't underscore this enough) fucking always always ALWAYS bring up the shooter’s political agenda immediately if they aren’t white (remember the Pulse shooting?)

Even despite all that hypocrisy, "Don't politicize this" is just a way to silence people–to guilt them into not talking about the safety of their own loved ones and how we might change a situation in which this is anything but unforeseen or unpredictable.

When else are we supposed to talk about it? A day later? Two? After the funerals? You know the cycle is getting so tight, we don't really have that much time until the next one. Can we all just pretend we're talking about the one-before-the-most-recent-one? And even though Tomi Lahren's bullshit guilt trip might get some traction because she invokes the ol' "The bodies aren't even cold" line (a frequent enough staple at Fox news to make me suspicious that someone has done some market research), it is designed only to silence anyone who isn't ardently pro gun.

Here's the problem with that: When the bodies do get cold, the NRA and its ardent supporters hope people will have have forgotten. Not forgotten forgotten of course, just political-will forgotten. Just calmed down a little–enough that they'll go back to their other priorities, and get mad about Russian interference, the latest tweet storm, and the West Bank and forget about all this unseemly business come donation and voting time. They hope most folks will be inured and numb and won't donate to Moms Demand Action or The Brady Campaign (or whatever).

Because what these gun advocates want more than anything else is for everyone to just fucking drop it. So they can go back to their #1 narrative of silence. They want their guns and they want them without regulation, debate, compromise, oversight, or anyone even fucking saying boo to them about it when someone shoots a bunch of children. And when folks are not angry anymore, they're less likely to take political action. This is how they continue to wait us out, and nothing changes.

Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but they are going to be politicizing out of one side of their mouths as they try to shame people for doing so out of the other. It's not like they waste any time jumping in front of a camera and saying that what we need are more guns or armed teachers or whatever the fuck. It's not like they waste any time sending out the cry: "After this last shooting, your freedoms are under assault again. Please donate now so we can defend your civil rights!" NRA funding goes UP after every shooting. They're actually MAKING money off of this shit.

Politicization galore.

Bullshit rating: Absolute raging bullshit.

Narrative 1- Silence

The narrative we most often hear. Crickets.

I have to take a moment to hand it to the lawmakers who have plowed forth with the idea of arming teachers and started test balloons and feasibility studies.

Oh don't get me wrong, that's the worst fucking idea since Australia imported toads to deal with their beetles, but in some way at least it is stepping out of the usual narrative, which is silence. That’s what we hear most—the sound of silence. The sound of politicians doing nothing.

Literally nothing.

Take a couple of weeks. Pretend to care. Tweet "Thoughts and prayers." Let the opponents tire themselves out by telling them you agree something has to be done. Let it all die down. And actually do nothing.

Few things prove the in-the-bones feeling that an oft-repeated atrocity probably isn't caused by the sham explanations someone offers up repeatedly than does doing nothing over and over again. If they thought it was violent television, they would be falling over themselves to enact strong FCC regulations. If they thought it was mental health, they would be scrambling to find the budget for better mental health care. When children are dead (and really dying in real time), we usually go fucking off the rails trying to find and stop the cause. If people really thought it was prayer in school that could have saved children's lives, they would be crawling over themselves to make it compulsory. We'd see fifteen super-PAC's overnight and a right-wing coalition of senators and congresspeople engaged in a national campaign. There would be laws in half the states tomorrow.

They know full well that's not what it is. That's why the minute it's out of their mouth, they go back to doing literally nothing.

Everyone knows all that shit has nothing to do with these shootings.

They just want to throw detractors off the scent––they want it to be ANYTHING but under-regulated firearms and a wink/nod culture of toxic masculinity. If it sounds like it might be a half-way plausible explanation about WHY CHILDREN ARE DEAD, then they go with it. But when they offer up that crap, but don't turn around and try to do something about it, it kind of exposes the deep-down truth not being talked about at dinner parties: that no amount of bodies could possibly make any damn difference if the price is going to be the slightest regulation of their guns.

Bullshit Rating: Complete bullshit.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Writing in Grief (Personal/Meta)

Accountability (take two)

Raw unfettered shit- 3,500

Slightly polished turd- 0

Superpolishedfragileshitstick- 0

Note for the uninitiated: this is the (restarting) of an accountability blurb for how my novel is going. There's not much now because I completely restarted it with an entirely different narrative voice. So watch this space on Mondays to see how I progress (and sometimes don't).

That should be a bigger number than it is, and now that I can, I'm going to tell you why it isn't and why I'm having more trouble these past couple of weeks bringing funny to the page. Why I've phoned in a couple of posts and why I'm probably not done.

In addition to all the things Writing About Writing does, it is a real time exploration into how messy it is to try to be a writer. You get to see me hit the highs, the lows, and the everydays in between. The conventional wisdom that writers go out and live lives of glamour and ease until they are hit by a lightning bolt of inspiration, whereupon they sit down for perhaps a month or six weeks and slam out a novel that they then pop off to an agent with no further thought other than to nip down to the mail to collect royalty checks is surprisingly pernicious. But similarly (though with less intensity) I also want to combat the equally ridiculous idea that we writers are wordsmithing machines, paragons of discipline, have ice in our veins, and never have a bad day or just can't deal with life.

Some of you have been with me for almost eight years. Through a loved one's lymphoma. Through a terrible break up. Through substantively losing a child for whom I wanted to be a coparent. Through a dear pet's death. Through the loss of friends. Through major health problems that required life alterations. Through it all, I've tried to not just tell you but SHOW you that writers write. Lord knows I've missed a post from time to time, and I'm all kinds of behind on every "behind the scenes" project I ever undertook. (My friends know they can annoy me by asking how my Skyrim article is going.) But this blog is a monument to the plodding, dogged effort that turns a session each day into a career.

But writers also fall on their faces. I have written a quick note to the patrons and blown off a day (or even two) here and there. I have dragged my ass to the computer at the end of my day and done some desperately uninspired fluff post. I have spent entire weeks barely dealing with the blog. And while I often do some of my own writing on such days (maybe noodle fiction casually or post something on my personal FB wall), it's more of a glutsplat of wordfeels than the crafted effort that makes for decent writing.

Grief can inform creativity, intensify it, bring it into focus. But in those first, intense moments of acute grief, writing anything of substance is almost impossible.

I can talk about what happened now. I couldn't for a few weeks because what happened was national news and reporters were trolling social media to try to mine information. The family didn't want that.

As you know, I quit pet sitting. I have a steady side gig in child care that covers the bills writing doesn't, and I have been trying to take it easier for health reasons. Well, I have about four clients I told that I would still be happy to watch their pets because it was always a pleasure (they always tip quite well or the job is super easy). A set of my clients (a couple in Berkeley) contacted me about watching their kitties over the Labor Day weekend. Happy to get a few extra dollars for some very low-key supervision, I took the job.

These clients were going to Santa Cruz to scuba dive, and the boat they were on had a horrible fire. Thirty-four people in the sleeping quarters below deck were killed, including my clients. Only four crew members who were above deck survived.

They were friends too, though I wish I'd known them better. Like many of my clients, they started as friends of friends, and I got to know them mostly through pet sitting, jokes over emails, or meeting a couple times. We talked often and in an act of generosity I have since come to learn was perfectly in keeping with his character, Dan took a couple of hours out of his schedule to help me change out my laptop's battery so I would save hundreds of dollars. And I guess I thought my getting to know them would just be something that happened organically...in its own time.

That alone was a terrible moment. However, as the family from disparate parts of the country coordinated to get to Berkeley and coordinated with me about a couple of things (because I was in the house), I told them that if it helped them, even a little, I would stay as long as they needed and keep taking care of the cats.

I don’t regret that offer, even a little (truly— it was nice to be in a position to be able to help) but it became more surreal than I could have anticipated. When people die that I'm not super close to, it's very sad, and I feel it deeply, but I can also kind of set the thoughts aside for a while to function. I have a cry and I'm okay for a while. And I know the thoughts will come back around but I can kind of push them down until I'm in a good place to have feels. But with this situation, I was in their house, and they were never coming home. I was looking at their couch and they were never coming home. I was petting their cats and they were never coming home. In one second nothing changed but everything was totally different. Every bag of snack food, every undone load of laundry, every casually strewn bit of personal effects, a hairbrush, a shampoo bottle the LED displays....is a landmine of implication.

It was so hard being THERE. I couldn't get away from it. I slept about 6 hours total in the three nights I stayed there after hearing the news. I couldn't stop my brain from rolling it over and over and over. I couldn't pause the playback loop. Not long enough to write. Not long enough to think. I managed to cook a meal kit on the last day I was there that was supposed to take 30 minutes of prep. It took me over two hours.

The house had ghosts in it. (Not the real kind, of course, but the metaphors that are just as unsettling.)

While I was there, I couldn't even sit down long enough to write. I couldn't structure and order the pattern of my thoughts. I wrote a few things for Facebook, but they took ten times longer than it should have to clean up my meandering thoughts. Things got better when I got out of the house, but I think I expected everything would go back to normal and it didn't. I was an emotional wreck from the time I spent in the house. Minds, like bodies, can be devastated and need recovery time. I managed to remind people to vote on a poll and later posted the results. That was about all I had in me other than Facebook posts and rambling.

My natural state is Being too Hard on Myself™, and I expected to walk out the door and be okay. Not that I didn't feel anything, but I thought I'd be able to hit the pause button to work. But grief is not a predictable creature, and I had lost about 20 hours of sleep (which if you've been with me a while, you'll recall is something I really, really have to be careful about).

It is sometimes hard for me to tell the difference between "This is why I get paid to be a writer" hard on myself and "Hey, Chris, this is some  dysfunctional shit" hard on myself, and I was doing the latter. I just wasn't going to get back to my feet so quickly.

I'm not going to spin this up with a little bow and deliver a bite-sized lesson on how to be a writer. Just remember that it's okay to breathe. It's okay to cry. It's okay to be a wreck and miss a few days. It's okay to be so shredded to flinders that you can't think, and when you can't thought pattern coherently, it's okay to give that space. Even if your job kind of exists because you're harder  on yourself than the rest of the world, because you put in 60-70 hour weeks, and because you don't give yourself a break when others would, some days it's not only okay to be gentle with yourself, but pretty fucking important. I can't tell you where that balance is. (No I literally can't––I consistently get it wrong.) Just remember that you're in this for the long haul, not for any one specific week. You can be hard on yourself next Monday.

Writing will still be there just where you left it.

Just make sure you come back.