Words in wordless times
ways of reaching someone
I rely on a certain spark to write this newsletter, which usually comes if I let it. This month, it didn’t. News was just too sad. I started writing about Uvalde and had to stop. Layered on the horror of massacred children and the devastating police response/lack thereof was the horror of so many other shootings and the feeling that we’re all following an outworn script. So instead of writing, I read.
I wanted to read perspectives on our country’s gun epidemic that extended beyond the latest mass shooting and discovered that Katelyn Jetelina of Your Local Epidemiologist, where I get my Covid stats, is a violence epidemiologist. I didn’t even realize there were violence epidemiologists, although we clearly need them. She looks at gun violence as the public health issue it is, applying lessons learned from wins around other public health issues like vehicle fatalities and tobacco. Our country loves turning irrefutable science into political debate, and there’s quite a bit of irrefutable science available on guns (despite the NRA’s attempts to bury it). Most pressingly, did you know kids in this country are MORE LIKELY TO BE KILLED BY GUNS THAN ANY OTHER CAUSE? WTF are we doing?
Unfortunately everything is politics, so I also spent a lot of time thinking about this interview by Kelly Hayes with Patrick Blanchfield from the TruthOut podcast. It took place before Uvalde but approaches gun violence from an abolitionist perspective, essentially calling out white liberals who won’t own guns but expect police with guns to protect them. If the Uvalde police didn’t demonstrate the flaw in this reasoning, I’m not sure what will. Hayes and Blanchfield also call for an expanded definition of what constitutes a mass shooting. Building on the well-known link between mass shooters and domestic violence, they argue that mass shootings often are a form of domestic violence spilling into the public sphere (if they even are separate spheres) and that we ignore the domestic at our peril. Every headline I’ve seen about the Depp-Heard trial claims we’re entering a new era of backlash against domestic abuse survivors, a scary thought since it’s never really been a good era!
I also read about things that were not guns. I started Maria Adelmann’s newly released novel How To Be Eaten, which offers the escapism of reality TV while also being very much about our present moment. I’ve loved Maria’s writing since her first workshop story at UVa, so it’s very exciting to have not just one but two beautiful books by her out in the world. I also read a great new story from Alec Niedenthal, who’s been writing fiction that treats our insane politics with hilarious compassion. (I know Alec from New College and also appreciate his perceptive takes on Florida.) And I read my brilliant friend Lydia Kiesling’s latest essay about therapy, which inspired a wave of nostalgia for our old HMO, which is how you know things are not good (especially because they didn’t even cover my individual therapy but you know I like a good group!). But Lydia’s writing is always good, and if you like this essay you should read her novel The Golden State, which I think about whenever I worry about raising kids in this country (so lately daily).
I’m also reading Claire Louise Bennett’s Checkout 19, which is kind of a roundup of things she’s read, but also other subjects like bodies and writing. This passage about writing particularly knocked me out: "I’d done it, I’d crossed over a boundary. I was somewhere I shouldn’t be . . . Writing could do that. Here was a way of reaching someone, of being with them, when you were not and never could be. Here was where we met. Here was where the distinction between us blurred.” That pretty sums up why I write, to cross that boundary. Thank you for letting me.
In lieu of seasonal writing, here’s a summery picture of the girls from our babysitter Ellen Demgen, including rainbows for Pride: