29 Things About Guns

The first time I shot a gun, I was about ten. My dad drove me out to a gravel pit on federal land behind our house. He nestled the .22 rifle against my shoulder and told me to relax.

I have no memory of the target — if it was a beer can, a piece of paper, a slab of wood — but I’m sure there was one.

I expected it to be loud, but I didn’t know it would hurt. I was scared before I pulled the trigger, but I felt even more scared afterward. I felt like I had just been violently punched in the shoulder. I had.

That was the last time I shot a gun.

***

A peculiarity of America and Americans is that we distrust our government. Though it’s technically the only thing allowed to imprison and execute citizens, we do not want our government to have a monopoly on violence.

We have successfully ensured that it does not.

***

On my worst days, I don’t know if I should be trusted with a loaded gun.

***

Half a dozen times, I have felt afraid of people carrying loaded guns. Every time, it was because the people packing heat seemed untrustworthy, immature, as if they had something to prove. They drew attention to themselves and to the fact that they likely have smaller-than-average dicks.

In each case, my anxiety was compounded by the terrible knowledge that I was trapped with them and their guns.

These people not only had every right to be carrying guns — they were paid to. They were members of the New York City Police Department and I happened to be on the same subway car as them.

I have every reason to distrust members of the NYPD.

***

I have ridden the train with NYPD officers on dozens and dozens of occasions and not felt the least bit afraid.

***

I do believe that the Second Amendment absolutely gives me the right to carry any weapon that a citizen police officer carries. This is a right I’ve chosen not to act upon.

***

In my mind, the first-ever school shooting took place on May 21, 1998. On that day, my beloved social studies teacher, a Republican, walked into class and said, “Okay guys, something has happened. People may start to joke about it, because they won’t know how else to deal. Don’t make jokes.”

We stared.

130 miles to the west, Kip Kinkel had opened fire on his classmates at Thurston High School. It was in Oregon. This was one month and one day short of a year before the shooting at Columbine High School happened.

To me, this is where it all began.

***

My mind is full of shit. The Thurston High School shooting was the third of five school shootings that occurred in 1998.

There have been school shootings in the United States for longer than there has been a country called the United States.

***

Guns are like sexually transmitted diseases — you can’t ever assume who has one and who doesn’t.

***

Some politicians and some of my Facebook friends seem to be advocating that teachers be armed in order to keep children safe at school.

I think it’s wonderful and heartening that these people trust teachers so much.

If teachers were required to carry weapons, they’d probably want to get paid at least as much as cops.

This would obviously never fly.

In America, we are even more committed to underpaying teachers than we are to owning guns.

***

There have been six school shootings in 2012.

***

In my twelve years of public school, I had only four bad teachers and a couple dozen fantastic teachers.

I’m not sure that I would trust every one of even my best teachers with a gun.

***

Mental illness is like guns and sexually transmitted diseases — you can’t ever assume who has one and who doesn’t.

***

I grew up in a house that contained a lot of guns. All kinds. Guns for killing animals, guns for killing people, antique guns for admiring. I have no idea how many guns there were.

***

Before I knew how to read, I was taught that the only acceptable reason to point a firearm at another living creature — human or animal — is to intentionally take that creature’s life.

I was taught this because accidents happen. Sometimes guns really do kill people.

And, in any case, most people aren’t trained snipers.

Part of the responsibility of gun ownership is only pointing it at something you mean to kill.

If you can’t accept that responsibility, then you shouldn’t own a gun. In that case, there is simply no reason to have one.

***

I don’t trust you with a loaded gun.

***

As a cyclist, I have learned to distrust every single driver. As a driver, I can’t promise that I won’t ever do something stupid that will result in the death of a cyclist — though I really go out of my way to pay attention.

So why would I trust anyone with a loaded gun?

***

Several months ago, I woke to find that a loaded handgun had been resting five inches from my brain for the past eight hours.

It was surprising.

***

Some people believe that if everyone were armed, mass shootings wouldn’t happened.

But the United States is — by far — the most heavily armed country on earth. According to this study, there are 89 civilian-owned guns for every 100 citizens in the United States.

Mass murders by shooting are nearly unheard of in countries where civilians don’t carry guns.

In countries where civilians don’t carry guns, there are almost no deaths caused by guns. Only 11 countries have higher rates of gun violence than the United States.

So the logic just doesn’t follow.

***

I don’t believe that movies or TV or video games are to blame for mass murders.

***

Do guns really prevent home invasions?

I wouldn’t blame you for shooting somebody who had broken into your house.

Data suggests that people who keep loaded guns in their house for the purpose of protection are more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

Tragically, this happened to a friend of a friend earlier this year. A father shot his son dead because he mistakenly thought he was a burglar.

The father is a retired police captain.

***

Since 1982, there have been three school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, a charming town of 40,000.

RZ’s grandfather, a Buddhist, lives there.

***

Every school shooting is the worst, but I have never been more horrified by one than the Amish school shooting that took place on October 2, 2006. A man lined up ten young girls — girls he knew — and summarily executed five of them before committing suicide.

Why did he hate girls so much?

We’ll never know.

But he’s not an exceptional case. Why do so many men hate girls and women so much that they put so much effort into raping and torturing and murdering them?

***

Women do not commit mass shootings.

***

What’s up, dudes? Let’s talk about this. What goes so wrong that killing strangers or classmates or children seems like the best option?

A friend told me that she believes this to be an extension of white male entitlement.

I have faced white male entitlement in every job I’ve ever had outside of freelancing. To me, this explanation just doesn’t add up.

***

Benjamin Franklin once wrote: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

I think about this a lot as it relates to the Fourth Amendment, which I believe to be much more important for most Americans than the Second. The Obama Administration has wreaked havoc with the Fourth — but people don’t get nearly as pissed off about this as they do when people suggest that guns be subject to similar regulations as, say, cars.

Why?

The Fourth Amendment impacts so much more of us on a daily basis than the Second ever could. To me, giving up the Fourth means that the terrorists (whoever the are) are winning.

***

The Obama Administration has been very kind to the Second Amendment.

***

We have a choice.

If we continue to regulate guns the way they are currently regulated — or if more of us decide to arm ourselves — horrifying, incomprehensible violence in schools and offices and malls and movie theaters will continue to happen.

If teachers carry guns, some of that violence will be carried out by them. They are people, so it will.

If we relinquish our rights to carry assault weapons and handguns, this violence will diminish. It has happened in every other country that has decided to follow this route.

Will some criminals still have guns? Yes. But their access to them will be severely limited.

If we choose not to impose severe restrictions on gun ownership, we are saying that we find mass shootings to be more acceptable than gun control.

This may sound reductive, but the choice is a complicated one: What is the relationship between safety and liberty; how do we interpret these values and does one take precedent? Including homicides, suicides and accidents, the US has 3500 percent more gun deaths per capita per year than the UK, where not even most police carry guns. But does it stand to reason that it would translate here? Would heavy regulations fix the problem? How does this relate to the way we arm our military volunteers?

If you don’t think it’s complicated, you’re not thinking about it hard enough.

***

I don’t know what the right answer is.

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I Love You Guys So Much

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And a Blessed St. Lucia’s Day to You

Merry, More or Less

My work is providing Christmas for four military families.

This morning, I watched the HR coordinator get teary as she dealt with the piles and piles of toys and clothes that co-workers had heaped on her desk.

“I know there are a lot of nice people here,” she said, “but you never know how people may be giving outside of work. This generosity is totally unexpected.”

Keep in mind, that generosity is happening in the midst of layoffs.

Whatever you celebrate in December, chances are generosity enters into it. Charity is an ancient and wonderful impulse, one of those things that truly separates us from the other members of the animal kingdom.

It’s ironic that Saul of Tarsus, the person who wrote most eloquently about charity, was a curmudgeonly asshole. Saul — or Paul, if you’d rather — is known for many things, but mincing words isn’t one of them.

If you can’t sincerely express charity, you are nothing, you scumbag, he (pretty much) wrote.

You’ve heard this before; it’s the squishy verse regularly misapplied to romantic love during wedding ceremonies. Contrary to popular belief, Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians was espousing faith, hope and charity – which, to Paul, was the highest manifestation of humanly love.

Paul and I disagree on many, many things, but not this one.

I’m still deciding how I’ll allot my holiday giving, but it will certainly involve at least one thing on this list. For me, that is what these December holidays are about.

Here’s what they aren’t about: using words to be passive-aggressive.

This is the time of year when some people like to meet sincere verbal manifestations of goodwill as an opportunity to Make a Point, especially if they can then go post about it on Facebook.

If a checker wishes you “happy holidays” and you choose to interpret this as an affront to your faith, and you then express this to everyone within earshot, you are a dick. Congratulations for making that person’s day worse! Merry Christmas!

I suggest interpreting the phrase “happy holidays” as whatever you want it mean:

  • Happy birthday Jesus!
  • Have a drunken New Year’s!
  • Gorge yourself stupid!
  • Enjoy your bottle of vodka and the company of your cats!

The great thing about “happy holidays” is that the words happy and holidays are so inclusive — everyone has an idea of the happiest way to spend a holiday. So think of what that means for you, and assume that the other person means it too.

I know that, for Christians, Jesus is the most important part of Christmas. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Christmas is still about charity. And politicizing well-intended kindness is uncharitable to say the least.

This led me to my annual Wikipedia k-hole of December celebrations. There are a lot.

Like, a lot.

You know about the obvious ones:

Latkes and Cranberry Sauce

Latkes and cranberry sauce?!? Yes, please.

Hanukkah — applesauce or sour cream? This is a false choice. HAVE BOTH. This not-super-important Jewish holiday was transformed in the 20th century to include stringing up lights, giving gifts and frying up potatoes.
Christmas — you know, what most of America celebrates. This is not to be confused with…
Christmas Eve — helpful for children of divorced parents and people who want to go to church and not have it ruin actual Christmas. For my family, this is the only day of the entire year that we all see a movie in the theater together.
Kwanzaa — designed for African Americans to reflect on important community values while coming down from the Christmas crazies.

Let’s not forget about:

Here's Lucy with her eyeballs.

Feast of St. Nicholas — by rights, Santa should be flying down your chimney on December 6, the true feast day of the portly gift-giver.
Saint Lucia’s Daythis one takes place today and is celebrated in lots of countries, from Norway to Croatia to Spain. It tends to involve cookies and processions of young girls carrying candles pretending to be St. Lucy, who got her eyes gouged out by some pagans. Yaaay?
Yule — this was Christmas before there was Christmas — evergreens, gorging, getting wasted. So, basically all the good parts of Christmas with none of the shopping and the unsanitary birthing conditions. This is what my ancestors observed, and though I don’t worship Odin, may he bring us luck in battle, I really like the rest of it.
Beiwe – on the winter solstice, the Saami, indigenous people of Scandinavia, worship Beiwe, the sun-goddess of both fertility and sanity (!). They sacrifice white female animals and cover their doorposts with butter. This does not make less sense than Santa Claus.
Dōngzhì Festival — get used to this one, it’s what our future Chinese overlords celebrate! It takes place on the solstice and involves eating  dumplings, definitely one of my most favorite foods. Count me in, overlords!
Festivusfor the rest of us. Feats of Strength and Airings of Grievances take place on December 23. Entering a retail store not playing Christmas songs on that day can appropriately be attributed to a Festivus miracle.

Then there’s:

Baseball fireworks

New Year’s Eve – which is, hooray, super fun and not the least bit religious!
New Year’s Day – which tends to involve a headache that’s mitigated by feelings of a fresh start.
Día de los Tres Reyes (aka Epiphany) — this happens on January 6, so it’s cheating a little bit. But Christians, did you know that this is the most important gift-giving day for many Christians? Most of Latin America, in fact. This makes sense, since the day commemorates the OG gift-givers, the three magi. For the record, the magi were Persian Zoroastrians.

I don’t care the least bit how you choose to light up these dark December nights. I hope you have fun doing it, I hope you’re with your family (or not, whatever is more pleasant) and I hope you eat something really delicious. And if you wish me a Glorious Kwanzaa or a Meh Festivus, I will respond in kind, regardless of whether I personally light multicolored candles or erect an aluminum pole.

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Good News You Guys, I Still Have A Job

But the day was bonkers.

For the first time during the Great Recession, I’ve sat through a day of layoffs. I think it drove everyone a little nutty. People cried. Interestingly, the teary people were not the laid-off people.

The good thing that happened — aside from retaining my job, hooray — was my work friend bringing me a hyacinth for Yule. We’ve never discussed winter celebrations, so maybe she’s a Nordic atheist too?

(I said I was going to blog every day in December. And I have! Hitting publish has been another story altogether, but it’ll happen friends. It will happen.)

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How Will This Play Out?

The time: this morning. The place: my house.

RZ: Are you biking or driving to work?
Me: Biking, but if I get laid off, I’ll need you to come get me.
RZ: Okay.

The ride was misty and windy, but I wasn’t going to not ride to work, in case it happened to be my last day. No matter what happens, these four months of bike rides have been the best thing about this job, which has been pretty great in and of itself.

I’ll let you know how it lands.

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Cycling: Why I Love It, What It’s Taught Me & How Not to Be A Dick

IMG_4735.JPG

Photo by eyeliam

I mentioned previously that I have ridden my bike about a 1,000 miles, more or less, since August. It’s now my main method of transportation. This wasn’t a goal, it just seemed like the best way to get to my job, 6.6 miles away. IS IT EVER.

The route by car is a mile shorter, but it takes the same amount of time: 35 minutes to drive 5.6 miles vs. 35 minutes to ride 6.6 miles (for free!). There has to be one hell of a headwind for driving to seem worth it. I’m not alone. About 8 percent of commuters in Portland consistently commute by bike, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average.

The Best Things About Bike Commuting

  1. There’s nothing more glorious than starting out the days with an exhilarating ride through autumn leaves.
  2. Spending 35 minutes riding to work is calories and stress burned, time well spent. 35 minutes driving to work is a stressful waste of time. Also: parking – maybe my most hated activity in the universe.
  3. The carbon footprint isn’t imaginary, and also gas costs money. The $200 I spent on rain gear a few months ago has already paid for itself.
  4. I have muscles that I’ve never seen on my body before.
  5. There is a community of cyclists in Portland. To obtain membership, one need only cycle. Riding bikes alongside six other people is a lot cozier than to driving alongside 60 other cars.
  6. I’ll be honest: I kinda feel like a bad-ass. I’m now way less of a wimp, physically and mentally, than I was six months ago. Is it pouring down rain? Well, I still gotta get home; being drenched is temporary and non-terrible in the grand scheme.
  7. Post-work beer — earned!
  8. I sleep like a rock.
  9. I always have something to talk to my bike-commuting co-workers about.
  10. Cycling means that there are 70 minutes every day in which I remain present and focusing entirely on one task — not dying.

Things I’ve Learned

  1. Exercising every day makes my life measurably better.
  2. Not driving to work makes my life measurably better.
  3. If the spiky-haired 12-year-old with the plaid jacket is still waiting for his bus when I turn from NW Ninth onto NW Marshall, I’m making pretty good time.
  4. If the truck that pumps malted barley into Bridgeport Brewery is still at it when I pass by, I’m in good shape.
  5. No car is to be trusted! Especially Benzes and Priuses, which have an alarming tendency to nearly run me over. BMWs and monster trucks, on the other hand, tend to wait an awkwardly long time for me to pass.
  6. Even as my thighs have gotten harder, I’ve learned how very very soft I am. So are you.

Cycling is not without its downsides however. And, like most other things in life, those downsides are closely tied to people being dicks. Thus I present to you

Saucy Salad’s Guide to Not Being a Dick, Cycling Edition

1. Don’t ride on sidewalks, even if you’re drunk, asshole.
Confession: I’ve ridden on the sidewalk before. But never when there was a bike lane and never when there were other people walking on the sidewalk. Sidewalk cycling is so assholic that it’s used as a metric for measuring the relative assholishness of cyclists in Philadelphia. Nearly every evening, as I ride by the Rose Quarter in Northeast Portland, I consider the case of a woman who mysteriously rides her bike on the sidewalk, ten feet from where everybody else is riding in the luxuriously wide bike lane. Because I see her do this so often, I know it’s not just a one-off. She isn’t a confused person who doesn’t know where she’s going, she chooses to be an asshole. But she looks like a nice person — kind of like my mom? — so I think she’s simply a dork who doesn’t get it. Hopefully you read this, dorky lady.

2. Learn the rules about four-way stops.
Here they are. There are a lot of smart people in Portland, and I assume that some of them drive. Nothing befuddles a Portland driver faster than a four-way stops. This problem is so notorious that a popular sketch comedy show lampooned this foible. It gets even more annoying when a cyclist is thrown into the mix. So annoying. Don’t be “nice,” just follow the law. And then we’ll all know what to expect.

3. Don’t ride with headphones.
Here’s the thing: Cyclists are vulnerable and humans are incapable of multitasking. Think you’re the exception? Nope. Science says that the better you think you are at multitasking the worse you are at it (ie, you’re deluding yourself). For me, taking time every day to focus on one thing, and one thing only, is the greatest gift of bike riding. It’s like meditating, but faster. But even if it weren’t, intentionally distracting yourself with music or a podcast is foolhardy — yes, even if you use only one earbud.

4. Don’t talk to me, get a bell.
This is more of a personal preference, but I am never not startled by somebody talking to me while I’m riding. No phrase has caused me to almost die more frequently than “on your left.” Plus, some people speak quietly. Bells are loud and need no interpretation.

5. You might get a ticket if you’re dumb.
Stop for school buses when red lights are flashing and for pedestrians at crosswalks. Don’t ride the wrong way down one-way streets, and don’t ride on the sidewalk (see above). I have seen cyclists ticketed for all of these things.

6. Daylight Savings commuters, come back! It’s better with you.
And less scary.

7. Use hand signals to turn.
Portlanders are typically very talented at this, but many people use their right arm to signal right. On an intuitive level, this makes a certain amount of sense, and in places like the UK that are oriented to left-hand driving, it makes actual real sense. But if you’re in a right-hand bike lane, chances are that no cars or even cyclists behind you will notice your right-arm signal.

8. Wear a helmet.
There is no scientific consensus on the efficacy of helmets, I know. However, the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics all agree: Wear a helmet. That’s consensus enough for me. And really, what do you have to lose? (Your ability to think and move and use the toilet and live, THAT’S WHAT.)

9. Stay humble, you make mistakes too.
Recently, I rode to a friend’s house after work. It was dark and I had never before ridden to her house from my job. I did a lot of stupid, scary things — not on purpose, but because I was confused and it was dark. It was frightening and a little humiliating. Cyclists can be each other’s biggest critics (witness: this blog post), so let’s give each other a break. We’ve all been there.

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This Is It

Okay.

Once again, I’ll be blogging every day (or so) in December. This time it’s free-form, but if there is a theme, it’s this: Enjoy Yourself, The World Is Ending.

But even if it’s not, I’d better like it anyway. Consider the alternatives.

In most ways, 2012 has sucked. I have been confronted with some pretty shitty things, ranging from the really annoying to the sincerely horrifying.

Some crops and humans thrive when they are submerged in shit. I do not!

The good news is that I’ve been dealing better than I would have thought. This isn’t because I underestimated my coping abilities, it’s because I realized that more than two meltdowns per year just isn’t sustainable. One of the best (and most frequently repeated) strategies I’ve found for heightening resilience is habitually reflecting on the good things. It’s self-hypnosis, a retroactive view in rose-colored glasses.

And as much as 2012 has sucked in breathtaking ways, it’s been pretty good in others. When this year ends, I’ll be going out healthier and happier and fitter than I went in.

1. In 2012, I traveled a surprising amount.
I’m not one of those people who claims to be travel-obsessed, but going places is something that RZ and I have prioritized in our lives, even when we are super poor. This year, I never left the country, but I spent quality time in Texas, Idaho, Washington, Montana, Colorado and California. And Oregon, of course.

2. National Parks for real, not the Ken Burns series (which I also love!)

The west side of Glacier National Park

East Coasters, this exists in the country that you live in. It does!

Before this year, I had been in, I believe, one national park ever: Grand Canyon. It was not overrated, whatever you might have heard, but I was there twenty years ago. That is bonkers. I didn’t plan on rectifying this in a huge way in 2012, but did I ever. By the end of the summer, I had hiked and camped in Glacier, Crater Lake and Redwoods National Parks. This alone would put a rosy sheen on 2012, especially since it involved…

3. BEARS

Oh hey alpha predator

Oh hey alpha predator

Three of them! In the wild! One of them was waddle-running across the Pacific Coast Highway in Northern California, but the other two, including a mothereffing GRIZZLY, were just lumbering along, minding their own business, being bears. Seeing that grizzly was transcendent, the best moment of the year by far.

4. Cycling
Since August, I’ve ridden my bike about 1,000 miles. More about this in the future.
I did not do this in pursuit of health and well-being, but because I got a “job” thing. You go there and they pay you money? More about that in the future.

5. I edited a novel for the first time

The writer, David Holley, is one of these inspiring people who decided to make big changes and follow his dreams. But, unlike most people who decide to follow their dreams, his dream doesn’t involve writing self-help books about following your dreams. I know, right? Instead of bumming you out with goal-setting and lists, Eden entertains with scary pandemics, volcanic eruptions and surprising feats of survivalism. It’s fun and exciting and you should probably buy it! [Kindle, iTunes, Barnes & Noble]

6. Neo-soul, I understand you finally
As a music writer, this is such a huge relief. Trapped In the Closet aside, I just didn’t get it before, but I always knew I was missing out. Was I ever! This development reminds me of one of the best conversations I’ve had this year:
RZ: “Ignition (Remix)” is totally my favorite song.
Me: Really?! You like it more than any song by, like, Wilco or Prince?
RZ: Okay, it’s my favorite song that’s ever been a radio hit. And possibly.

7. Speaking of music, I got to get paid for talking to so many interesting musicians!
This is probably the best one, partly because it gave me the chance to talk to a truly one-of-a-kind man and hopefully spread the gospel of his mind-blowing tunes. I don’t meet new people very often, and I’m glad the Mercury forces me to meet so many great ones.

On the downside, I realized I just couldn’t continue to review movies on a grand scale. A full-time job plus several freelance projects equals something had to give. I really miss it. Also, I took fewer pictures than I have in years, and, aside from a few mental-ward-ish pages in the back of my notebook, those detective novels are still waiting to get written. That’s okay, I’m physically incapable of maintaining this abstention and 2013 is just a few weeks away.

Here’s an amazing poem I found today on the Internet about not regretting even your truly shitty moments. After I read it, I saw that it was written by an old college professor, Dorianne Laux. I think you’d like it, even if you don’t like poetry. It’s kinda breathtaking.

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Long Days

I don’t know if people outside of the Pacific Northwest think of Oregon as wine country. It is. I enjoy drinking wine, but not nearly as much as I love being in the middle of rolling hills covered in grapes. This is how we spent last Saturday, with some long-lost college friends.

I remember now that I don’t hate summer. This was something I forgot over the course of eight summers spent in New York City. There’s nothing more demoralizing than walking to work at 6 a.m., already sweaty, odors of pee and rotten fish trapped in the vapor. Oh hey, gag reflex.

When I go to hell, it will feel like a subway car whose AC has failed. In August.

Portland doesn’t stink in the summer; if it’s hot one day, it will probably be chilly and raining the next. There are no tropical storms. You can swim in rivers without needing a course of antibiotics afterward.

I’m bad at planning — especially group activities, holy god — but I’m really good at going along with other people’s plans. And my unwillingness and impatience to organize these kinds of things makes me especially grateful when other people do.

On Saturday, I’ll be riding my bike 60 miles — also thanks to a planning friend. In this case, [urban] planning is her actual job.

Last time, I made reference to a fear of failure that I had indulged for so long that it had become a teensy bit crippling. Publicly acknowledging the things I’m bad at helps to stifle this. So yes, I’m bad at initiating practically any type of social interaction. But friends, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you a whole lot.

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Come, come, you wasp

Hello, it’s been a while.

I’ve been busting my ass, like I said. It’s not a great reason, true, but something has to give, and it’s not going to be sleep, damnit.

In 2012, I’ve spent too much time feeling crushed with embarrassment by my faults. People tell me this is stupid. I guess this is true. One non-fault quality of mine is that I’m pretty good at accepting other people’s less-than-stellar qualities. Is it vanity that I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they’ll do the same for me?

Having insane amounts of energy will never be one of my faults.

The good news is that I’ve done a lot of work this year. The bad news is that the creative front has suffered. The good news is that I’ve written every day! The bad news is that I’ve allowed movie reviews and autism to monopolize the writing.

It’s time to recalibrate.

This week, I’ve done more editing than I have in the rest of the year combined. It’s a great feeling, partly because I think I’m really good at it. But honestly, it’s such a relief to be critiquing instead of the one being critiqued. Or, you know, judged, whatever.

Anyway, the house we live in came with some deck furniture. Recently, I noticed a tiny something or other stuck to the umbrella.

A blip on an expanse of umbrella

It is about one inch by two inches. And it is perfect. RZ frequently tells me that perfection is an unattainable goal, but that’s obviously not true.

A perfect blip

This mighty bit of engineering is a miniature wasp nest. I know, I know: Tiny nests have a way of getting big and out of control. It will need to be scraped away while it’s still smaller than, say, my thumb.

If I be waspish, best beware my sting.

If it gets as big as my hand, things will have gotten out of control. But if you know anything about me, you know that my inclination is to let it get out of control. This is not because of tenderheartedness or a particular affinity for stinging insects. It’s because I am fascinated.

In his tongue.

How does it know? Is it the work of only one wasp, or are there several? Do they spend their days scouring the neighborhood for scraps of paper? Are there other materials involved? We put the umbrella up and down quite a bit. Does this bother them? Do they have a preference for either the up or down position?

Whose tongue?

These wasps have managed to do what no human ever has: They’ve made a perfect something.

Come, come, you wasp

But where does this perfection get them? Wasps are dicks and I’m totally going to destroy this in like, five seconds.

Wasp Nest
by John Fuller

Be careful not to crush
This scalloped tenement:
Who knows what secrets
Winter has failed to find
Within its paper walls?

It is the universe
Looking entirely inwards,
A hanging lantern
Whose black light wriggles
Through innumerable chambers

Where hopes still sleep
In her furry pews,
The chewed dormitory
Of a forgotten tribe
That layered its wooden pearl.

It is a basket of memories,
A museum of dead work,
The spat Babel of summer
With a marvellous language
Of common endeavour.

Note: it is the fruit
Returning to the tree,
The world becoming a clock
For sleep, a matrix of pure
Energy, a book of many lives.

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Four Miles East of Mitchell

Pearls
It’s been a while. I’ve started a new thing, with some other people, most of whom I’ve never met. It’s new, so I don’t know what to say beyond: we get assignments and have one week to do them. This is the first; its home is here.

When my grandmother became a widow at the age of twenty-three, she had three kids under the age of six. My mom was the eldest of these, and her father’s death so traumatized her that it became the defining event of her life.

I didn’t verify the circumstances of his death until after I had finished the assignment. It was more gruesome than I had remembered.

The photo is of the pearls that my grandfather gave my grandmother when she was 17. They were a wedding present. To me, their extreme youth has always been the defining element of the story.

There’s been an accident is how it starts
in my mind, a cliche is never a good way
to open, but how else
to begin a conversation that ends

your husband is dead. It was the log truck’s fault
faulty manufacturing, that is why
you are a widow at twenty-three. Was he crushed,
were his insides on the asphalt?
These are questions you can’t ask

so far after the fact. I think it was sudden
I think there were guts or his spine
snapped and it was over like that, faster
even than old, old pine trees

slip loose from their winched chains
tumbling slowly, bouncing gently
coming to rest, silent, naked
splayed across two lanes of highway in 1958.

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