I’m sitting in my hotel room in Queen Anne on day three out of town with The Humans tour. Seattle Rep and our housing is within spitting distance of the Space Needle (or the “Speece Naddle” as Monty calls it), but my view is of downtown (I assume it’s downtown. That’s usually where they put the tall buildings) and of a lot of construction. Seattle is under-going massive new construction now that Amazon is in town. I count 14 cranes from my living room window. Most are building those hideous glass, and grey, and often orange (?!) “luxury” condo buildings that became a scourge on the skyline of downtown Brooklyn in the last five years or so and are everywhere.
I haven’t listened to my morning news podcasts, yet, or checked Twitter, so I don’t know what awful tragedy took place over night, though I’m confident there has been at least one mass shooting. Do we even call them “mass” anymore if fewer than 10 people are killed? I remember when Columbine happened. I was horrified, but somehow not shocked. Even though it was the first attack of its kind and we were all supposed to be shocked, I remember feeling kind of numb. I felt awful for the victims and survivors and their families, but I never felt like it was out of the realm of possibility enough to be shocked by it. I felt some shock after Sandy Hook, but even then, I thought, “Yeah, people are sick and awful. This is what happens when awful, sick people have access to killing machines.”
DO NOT MISINTERPRET ME, I’m not saying our mass shooting crisis is the fault of mental illness. I have mental illness. The only person I’ve ever wanted to kill was myself. And my sister’s ex-boyfriend… And, frankly, I think we’re all mentally ill to some degree, or at least suffering from PTSD to some degree or another. My generation was raised by two generations of survivors of horrific wars. Our grandparents and our parents survived World War II and Vietnam respectively, even if they didn’t serve; war permeates every aspect of our lives. War really is hell. Vietnam was not just some montage of walking through jungles while Credence Clearwater played in the background. It was a living nightmare. And thousands and thousands of the men and women who did survive it went on to have children without ever processing the atrocities they committed in the name of patriotism. Those are the people who raised us. Of course we’re all damaged. And then there’s our joke of an education system and organized religion, both of which teach blind obedience to “God” and country, both of which are completely false concepts.
Anyway, we’re all broken. And we’re being “lead” by a group of sociopathic monsters whose hands are bound by the NRA and the Koch brothers. So, no, I’m not shocked when a broken person, who is a product of this backward-ass broken system gets his hands on a tool built for ONE PURPOSE and uses it for that purpose. And if you are still shocked by that, then you’re deluding yourself.
We made some progress last night across the country in local elections, especially with women and people of color being elected, including electing the first trans woman to a delegate seat. In Virginia, no less. So, that’s good. Maybe the system really can be changed from within. Maybe we don’t need to upend the whole thing and start from fresh.
Monty’s dad talks about visiting a museum when he was a kid that proclaimed to have George Washington’s ax that he famously chopped down the cherry tree with. “Come see George Washington’s actual ax!” When they got there, a museum guide explained that, over the years, many parts in the ax had to be replaced due to age and wear. So, George Washington’s “actual, authentic” ax had had its handle replaced. And its blade. And its handle again. And the parts that held the handle and the blade together. “So,” Kurt said to the museum guide, “It’s not actually the ax that George Washington used.” “Sure, it is,” the guide said, “It’s just been refurbished!”
Maybe that’s what we’ll do. Piece by piece, part by part, we’ll replace and refurbish the parts of our country that have been worn away or have become outdated due to age and wear. A legislative seat here, a law there. And eventually what we’ll have is a brand new country that pretty much resembles the original but with new, working parts that serve it better.
“Come see ‘The Original United States of America!’ Now with more tolerance, fewer guns, and a lot more grey and glass ‘luxury’ condos!”
And now I’m off to rehearsal where I get to play make-believe and get paid for it. Now that is shocking.
I woke up this morning to the news about the shooting in Las Vegas. More than 50 people dead and over 200 injured. I wrote that sentence and then sat here staring into space for lack of any words to possibly follow it up with.
I watched the clips of the concert from when the shooting started. I listened to Up First and they played audio of it. The rapidity with which those shots were fired is breathtaking. Aside from the horrific images that it invokes, I keep thinking, why do these weapons even exist? Not just why would a civilian have access to them, but why do they even exist in the first place? I don’t see justification for it.
I think a lot about the very beginnings of civilization. I imagine two small tribes living across a river and a few miles up and downstream from each other. One of these tribes finds their crops or their animals dying and they need help or they face starvation. I imagine a gathering of some kind, maybe the elders, to discuss what’s to be done. Someone mentions the tribe across the river. Their crops are healthy. And a decision has to be made. Do they approach the other tribe peacefully and ask for help? Maybe offering some kind of trade or help in return? Or do they ambush them and take what they need forcefully?
I know that animals are naturally afraid of the other. I know that it’s in our makeup to not be too trusting. In order to survive, it’s in our best interest to be suspicious. But humans are supposed to be intelligent. We are supposed to be able to use reason and logic to supplement our instincts.
When I think about these hypothetical early tribes, they always decide on violence. There is a small contingency advocating for a peaceful solution, but their voices are drowned out by those using fear as their main argument. “We don’t know these people. They could kill us all the moment they see us coming.” And so, they go down river and ambush this unsuspecting tribe and they feel righteous and justified because it was all done in the name of survival.
I know that if this kind of thing happened, it happened the world over. Wherever there were tribes of people, these kinds of decisions had to be made. But I think of these two imaginary tribes and the moment of decision as a turning point in humanity. We could have chosen something better. We could have taken a risk and made the decision that ultimately benefited the species not just the tribe.
And I know this sounds naïve. Clearly we, as a species, have proven that we are not that intelligent. Even if that mythical tribe had decided on a peaceful resolution, another tribe further down river would have made the opposite decision. I think it’s in our nature to destroy each other.
We are ridiculous. We are stupid and scared and we don’t learn from our mistakes. We have let those in charge, since the dawn of civilization, cultivate fear and mistrust for their own gain.
When food storage was invented the people in charge quickly realized they could use it as a method to gain more power and, even better, to pit people against each other. Before we figured out how to store grain, we had to eat what we harvested before it went to waste. And if there was extra it went to those who were in need. But then we knew how to store the extra and suddenly there was something that needed to be inventoried and guarded and doled out. And it no longer belonged to the people, it belonged to those who were keeping the inventory and paying the guards and doling it out. And there were taxes placed on it. And there were punishments for trying to take what wasn’t yours. After all, you can’t just let anyone come and take what they want or there will be chaos. The food and people were controlled for the good of the people.
I realize this seems way off point. Someone let loose a barrage of bullets into a crowd and I’m talking about grain storage.
My point is, we made this world. We had a blank slate and could have made anything we wanted. We could have designed a hedonistic, orgiastic, peaceful utopia. But, instead, we used fear, suspicion, and mistrust to guide us and we created a world in which someone can send their loved one off to enjoy a concert and never see them again because a weapon exists that can fire off dozens of rounds per minute.
Yes, yes, I KNOW this sounds naïve. And insane. I’m arguing that grain silos led to last night’s massacre. And even in a hedonistic, orgiastic utopia someone could send a loved one off to a concert and never see them again. But it’s hard to imagine that, short of a natural disaster, hundreds of people could send loved ones off to a concert and never see them again.
I could spin off into another theory about how natural disasters would have resulted in the use of assault rifles eventually, but I realize I’ve already given you a lot to swallow.
That’s all I can say.
I was concerned one of my recent blog posts was going to upset my father and it turns out I was right, though not for the reason I thought I'd be. He did not express upset in my confession about my psychological scars from "The Fight". And, of course I recognize that his not expressing upset doesn't mean he didn't experience upset, he just didn't share that upset with me if it did, indeed, upset him. What he did take issue was my characterization of his neighbors as being Right Wing nut jobs who hate gays and women.
And for this, I am truly sorry.
In truth, I don't know my parents' neighbors, so how could I possibly know their stance on gays and women? To be fair, my father only told me about one particular neighbor who is a Right Wing nut job and I extrapolated and, perhaps, exaggerated a bit for dramatic effect.
Some years ago, my father gave me a book called Inventing The Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. In it there is some talk about using personal history as narrative and of a device often used by memoirists in which some facts or memories are embellished or heightened to serve whatever story they might be telling.
I confess I used this device when I pluralized "neighbor" to "neighbors" and added the stuff about gays and women.
I would like to now amend my unfair, uninformed characterization of my parents' neighbors. Now that I have spent a little more time up here I think I have a slightly better idea of the politics of the general population. So here is my edited version of the offending statement:
My parents are selling this place. It's too far from the city, and some of the neighbors have lawn signs calling to repeal The Safe Act which is a law put into effect this year that calls for tighter restrictions on gun and bullet sales, and there's a big lawn sign right at the beginning of town which states "Impeach the liar Obama. Trump 2016!", and there was this guy at a nearby restaurant telling everyone at his table (and all the others) that "Trump really has what it takes to turn this country around" and that he ran circles around the other GOP candidates in the debate and they couldn't respond to his points because they (his points) were spot on and "how do you debate the truth?", and there was the pickup truck I drove behind today on the way to Albany with this decal on its back window:
And, of course there are exceptions. There always are. Like Jews in Utah. Or Black people in Maine. Or... my parents. And while this is an incredibly beautiful part of the country and there are breathtaking views around every turn, and flocks of wild turkeys running around everywhere, and deer in the backyard, it makes sense that my parents would want to live in place where the majority of the people around them believe in the same principals they do. I get that. I really do.
But, when the apocalypse does come, having a natural water source on your property is going to matter a whole lot more than having like-minded neighbors. And, having repealed The Safe Act, my parents' neighbors will be coming for the water, automatic assault riffles ablazin'!
I spent an hour on an blog entry on Wednesday night and it disappeared to god knows where. It was a good piece and I was so frustrated I punished my blog by not returning to it til now. That'll show it.
I was very out of sorts in Brooklyn. Last year at just about this time I had an epic fight with my parents that was life and relationship-changing. I suppose I didn't want to be in the house on the anniversary of "The Fight." There are enough ghosts in that house. I don't need to hang around with the one where my parents tell me I'm a failure. We headed to the Upstate house a day early, which will be our primary base until one or the other of us obtains gainful employment, and since I'm an actor, that burden basically rests on Kurt's shoulders. Even though the Upstate house was were I got married to a man I didn't love, twelve years ago (Twelve years exactly, actually. We got married on August 30th.) this house holds fewer memories. I can even look directly at the spot on which I said, "I do" and not feel a thing. Plus Kurt and Monty and I are alone up here (most of the time), so it's significantly quieter than Brooklyn.
I feel compelled here to clarify my feelings toward my parents' Brooklyn house and, for that matter, toward my parents. I dislike neither. In fact, I love both my parents and the house. It just sometimes feels like... a lot. It's a small house and they have two dogs including a Greyhound, and when it's me and Kurt and Monty and my parents and my sister and the dogs it's... a lot. One of the results of "The Fight" is that I've become more introspective, more guarded, and slightly less trustful. It's unfortunate, but true. I am aware that this is going to pain my father to read, but there it is. I don't know if I'll ever truly recover from it. And, in a strange way, I'm okay with that. Also, I should say, for the record, that when we are with my family, caring for Monty is significantly easier as there are three extra adults to make sure his head doesn't fall off. It allows for time to write. Or nap.
So, to sum up, I love my parents and am grateful for their warmth, love, generosity, and hospitality. I love my childhood home. But on the heels of the most stressful year of my life and moving across the country in a car with a toddler, I needed some peace.
The Upstate house is pretty far from they city (about 2 1/2 hours), which makes it not practical for commuting. But it is so peaceful and idyllic. Yesterday my step-mother took Kurt on a walk around the property. He came back and said, "When I was standing in that meadow I felt like I was in a painting."
"Excuse me. Meadow?" I said.
"Yeah, the meadow on the other side of the trees," he said.
"There's a meadow?"
There's a meadow. I had never walked the property in the 14 years that my parents have owned this house. I assumed the property ended at the tree line at the back of the backyard. So, Kurt took Monty and I up to the meadow and beyond. There's a fucking meadow, guys. A few of them. And a creek. With water. Do you understand?
I was honestly trying to figure out how we could make farming work. Suddenly I was thinking about bringing professionals in to clear some of the forest to make a path for fucking cows and sheep and goats. And I was telling Kurt that we would have to get one of those movable chicken coops. And I was sure I was going to become a dairy farmer and make artisan butter that I'd sell at the Union Square Farmer's Market. And occasionally someone would say, "You look familiar." And I'd say, "I'm not Lena Dunham!" And we would laugh and then I'd tell them about the lavender butter and how good it is on blueberry scones.
And here's the thing: My parents are selling this place. It's too far from the city, and all the neighbors are virulent Right-Wingers (The kind that hate gays. And women.), and they don't come up here often enough to justify having to pay the property taxes which have increased since all the small dairy farms are dying off because they don't get the subsidies that giant, mega, factory farms get. Some prospective buyers came to look at it today, but when the dude stepped out his Chrysler, wearing purple leather loafers with no socks, my fears of having the house bought out from under us vanished. For today, anyway.
When the apocalypse comes and water becomes a serious issue, they're going to regret having sold this place. Mark my words. Well, they'll probably be long gone by then. But Monty will be like, "What the fuck were they thinking?!" And I'll be like, "What, dear? Hand me that bottle of sleeping pills, a plastic bag, and some duct tape. There's $500 stowed away in the back of the armoire. It's all I have left. I love you."
And now comes the irony. My good friend has opened a daycare in Hamilton Heights and has hired me for a reduced hourly wage in exchange for daycare for Monty. And he wants me there full time. But I can't take the job because I can't commute to the city every day. So, I'm literally being handed a job and I can't take it. Amazing. And no, I can't stay in Brooklyn full time (Please refer to aforementioned Fight.). So, that's a conundrum.
Monty continues to be the best human ever. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but it's just facts. He says "Thank you" when appropriate. He greets everyone with a cheery, "Hiya!" He RARELY tantrums, and by rarely I mean I can't remember the last time he did. He now says, "I love you." and it seems to come from a genuine place of love. I don't know how he knew how to label that feeling. I suppose after the millionth time I grabbed him and hugged him and told him I loved him he realized that one went with other. We took him to a diner tonight and my sister put "Jailhouse Rock" on the jukebox and Monty stood on his seat and air drummed. At the end of the song he yelled, "Rock! And! Roll!!" I mean, come the fuck on.
In other, less personal news, I was trying to come up with something to say in the wake of the several recent shootings. I am profoundly distressed by the state of the gun control debate in this country. I am furious that when I think about sending Monty off to school I now have to worry that some maniac with a gun will take some convoluted frustration out on Monty's class and I'll never see him again. I'm furious that ANYONE has to worry about that. We are completely out of control. Someone tweeted recently that the gun debate in this country ended with Sandy Hook. When it becomes acceptable to kill children, we have lost the fight.
Also, I'm reading an interview with Maya Schenwar who is a prison reform advocate and while I already knew the prison system is a complete failure, some of the shit she talks about makes you want to commit hari kari .
George Carlin said he wasn't interested in making things better or working to change the world because we had already fucked it up so profoundly that there's no going back so we might as well just ride it out while we're here. When you think about the fact that as a species we could have set up life any way we wanted and we designed what we designed it is the most nonsensical thing ever. We somehow decided that life should be a series of responsibilities all meant to pay someone else to make it possible for us to continue meeting our responsibilities.
We can't keep going like this, right?
P.S. I'm aware that I sound more discouraged than normal right now. But I'm actually feeling pretty hopeful and happy. No need to worry. I'm on my meds and looking for a new therapist. Everything is great!