Writing while angry

[Author’s note: it’s been a long time since I’ve written here, so what follows is reactive and immediate. It may also be triggering.]

When I was in high school, I read The Long Walk, a novella by Stephen King, published under his pen name Richard Bachman. It’s a brilliant piece. The gist of the plot is that in a dystopian United States, young men enter a lottery for the chance to be one of 100 boys chosen compete in a contest in which they try to outwalk 99 other boys to win their greatest desire. The reality of the fact that they’re basically committing suicide doesn’t hit until the first few deaths. You see, anyone who drops below 4 mph a certain number of times is killed on the spot. As the walk progresses, the boys awaken to the reality of their deathwish and the social circumstances that got them there. In the end, even the winner is an empty shell, wiped clean of all anger, desire, identity.

In that same collection is a novella called Rage. It’s a very difficult read, given where we are a society. You see, it’s about a school shooting. In it, King explores the social factors that fail teenagers. In the end, it wasn’t the violence that King wanted to examine – it was the pressures that make violence a reality. In the years since the novella’s publication, numerous school shootings have taken place. King asked that the story be pulled from publication in 1999, wrote about why in 2013, and has donated proceeds from that writing to gun control efforts.

Each of these stories depicts a society in which self-destruction is the only path for the protagonists. These stories paint a world in which the downtrodden fight for scraps and compete to the death for a mere chance to live a life that promises more than fighting for the next meal. (For a real in-your-face metaphor, read The Running Man novella – it’s far darker than the movie.) These works are meant to horrify, but they are also meant to shock you into thinking.

Stephen King’s writings came to mind when I heard of yet another school shooting, coming so close after two other shocking domestic terrorist attacks in Buffalo and California. I hesitate even calling them “shocking,” because it is so common anymore. We are drowning in violence. We are buried in helplessness. We are suffocated by inaction.

King’s writings came to mind because we are living in a society that incubates violence. To be clear, I do not exonerate the killers. They are evil. They are horrible. They have destroyed so much. They are monsters.

But they are our monsters.

We celebrate notoriety and grant celebrity to the worst of us. We cry ”thoughts and prayers” while we profit from ensuring the next attack will happen. The news cycle never ends, politicians pad their pockets, and legislative progress halts in the name of grandstanding.

I’m fucking angry about it.

I don’t have patience for it anymore.

And before you dismiss my anger, listen.

I am a gun owner. I have a shotgun and a .22 pistol. I enjoy trap shooting and target shooting. And I would gladly relinquish how I own and use those guns if it meant no one else would feel like violence is the only answer. I am a registered independent, and I would gladly vote for legislation that addresses inequality in society and works to ease the burdens of those who feel like their only chance to leave a legacy is to destroy lives.

In the immortal words of Ted Lasso, we are broken. We have built a system that limits hope. We have exchanged our social contract for control. We have been sold the lie that security means success. We keep voting for people who are owned by lobbyists. We focus on banning books when we are failing our fellow human beings. We are systematically closing off choices for all but a few and as a result, we have people who think that there is only one path.

I don’t know the full answer. We need gun reform. We need social programs. We need pay equity. We need to eliminate white supremacists. We need campaign reform. We need to remember we need each other.

The dead deserve better. Their families deserve better.

If you are also angry, that’s good. Let’s channel that anger into action. Let’s stop pretending there’s nothing we can do. If you believe in prayer, then pray. And when you’re done, roll up your sleeves.

We’ve got work to do.

If you’re struggling with feeling helpless, here are some resources for you to take action:

  • Moms Demand Action: Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence.
  • Sandy Hook Promise: Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.
  • Buffalo 5-14 Survivor Fund: In partnership with Tops, the National Compassion Fund has established the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund to provide direct financial assistance to the survivors of the deceased and those directly affected by this tragedy.
  • Mental Health Support: A starting place to find help.
  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: Dedicated to raising transparency about candidate funding and endorsement of gun control.
  • Contact Your Senator: Information on writing or calling your senator demanding action.
  • Contact Your Representative: Information on writing or calling your representative demanding action.
  • VolunteerMatch: If you want to make a difference locally, this site can help you get started.

We know how lucky we are

There is no doubt about it – 2020 has been a challenge.

And it started before COVID hit.

We sailed into January believing the worst was behind us. Our dog, Boo, had survived emergency surgery in December, emerging from a twisted stomach without her spleen but with all stomach tissue intact. It was pretty much a best case scenario. We celebrated Christmas and the New Year, certain we had more time with our older, but still puppy-like, dog. 

Then less than two months later, the rug was pulled out from under us and Boo threw a blood clot and despite emergency care, we lost her 24 hours later. After 10 years, we were suddenly coming home to an empty house. It was terrible. 

And then the world started shutting down.

Our last personal trip was the day after we lost Boo (planned trip to Chicago for the Hustle), and my last business trip was early March. Shortly after that, my choir concert was cancelled, and eventually, the rest of the season. We watched and waited to see what would happen with jobs, with family, with health. We hoped things would improve by August so we could take a planned trip to California, but soon realized there was no way. Our annual pre-holiday trip didn’t even get to the planning stages, knowing we were in this for the long haul.

Yet through it all, we know we are lucky. 

Neither of us lost our jobs and the work we do is easily done remotely. We have good health insurance. We have a house large enough to accommodate both of us working from home for the foreseeable future. We have the means and the know-how to order what we need online. We have remained healthy. Our extended family has remained healthy. The money we had set aside for our California trip was repurposed into long-overdue home improvements (along with everyone else in our neighborhood, apparently). We already had a home gym set up, for goodness’ sake. Overall, we are doing okay.

Every once in a while, one of us will comment on a story we’ve read or a segment on television we just saw, saying, “We have been really fortunate through all of this.” 

That doesn’t mean we don’t have bad days. We get frustrated, depressed, annoyed, and bored – just like everyone else. But we haven’t had to say good-bye to a loved one via Facetime, which puts it all in sharp perspective. 

For all of this, we are grateful. I won’t say we’re “blessed,” because to me that infers we are somehow special or ordained. No – we are flat out lucky. Yes, we follow health guidelines (masks and sanitizer on hand at all times), but lots of people who do that have gotten sick. Yes, we try to be thoughtful about our careers, but lots of people who do that were laid off through no fault of their own. We are simply benefitting from some cosmic lottery that allows us to weather this particular storm in relative security. And so, we are grateful.

There is no motive behind sharing this, other than to say – beware of attribution bias. Yes, we might try to make our own luck, but that saying, “Man plans and God laughs,” exists for a reason. People can do everything right and still struggle. And people can do everything wrong and succeed. You can be proud of your accomplishments AND acknowledge the element of chance that ensured the cards fell in your favor.

Final proof of our luck? We had been following an Akita breeder on Instagram for future consideration. Their dogs had similar personalities to Boo and we thought someday, they might be an option when the time came to consider a new dog. The day we lost Boo, a litter of puppies was born. We were able to put a deposit down, got our first pick of the puppies, and welcomed Baloo to our home the week before my birthday. He’s a doofus of a dog who tries our patience like only a 10-month-old puppy can. 

And we are so lucky to have him. 

It’s time to start writing for me again

Picture of a typewriter with the words "stories matter" on the paper.

It’s been eleven months since I last posted on this site. Kind of stretches the claim in my bio that I author a blog, ya know?

It’s not that I haven’t been writing. I contribute to HR Examiner, ERE.net, and other one-offs as requested. I also write for newsletters and posts for the place where I work. I enjoy writing for all these different places, I really do! But for anyone who has ever done prescribed writing, you know it’s just not the same as writing for yourself.

It’s not that I haven’t had ideas for this blog during the last eleven months. Apparently, I have 25 drafts of posts in various degrees of completion, and that doesn’t count all the random ideas I’ve had while watching television or listening to the radio, or just musing on the human condition.

I just haven’t felt like finishing any of the posts.

Part of it is all the other writing I’ve been doing. Sometimes the word tank just runs dry. Part of it is the fact I really like my work and maybe I didn’t need to write to feel heard (I will most likely unpack that in a future post). I also think a big part of it is, just….well, LOOK AT WHAT IS HAPPENING. We have a lot going on between COVID and the crazy person who was supposed to lead us through it. It just felt like there were more important things to deal with.

Our dog, Bamboo (also known as Boo), died unexpectedly in February. She threw a series of blood clots and we had to let her go. It was terrible. Then COVID hit, and all the things I find solace in (travel, choir, lunch with friends) had to shut down. Then there was the uncertainty about jobs and the economy. I mean…that’s a lot.

But things are starting to look up. We were fortunate to get another puppy soon after we lost Boo. (Baloo was born the day Boo died – I like to think that was divine intervention). The work I do is still important, desired, and incredibly fulfilling. And for the first time in four years, we will have an adult in the Oval Office. Hope springs eternal.

So I’m going to start writing more regularly again. I may dust off one of those 25 drafts and finish it up. Or I might just delete the lot and start anew. I may even change the name of this web site. Who knows?

I just know that I’ve still got opinions and I want to share them.