Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I was raped. Now, listen.

I was raped. Now, listen.

I was raped by a friend, not a stranger. I was sober, not drunk. I willingly went into the room, I was not tricked. I was flirtatious, I did not want sex. I was silent, I did not scream. I was still, I did not fight. I stayed afterwards, I did not run. I kept it to myself, I did not go to the police.  

I did not give my consent, I was ignored.                     
I did not say yes, I was never asked.
I said no, I was not listened to.

Those are the unadulterated facts of the situation.

In the months afterward, when presenting those facts to some people, I have been accused of being a liar, of having ‘really wanted it’, of having made a mistake, of letting my guard down, of being naïve, at fault, weak, narcissistic, cruel, manipulative, spoiled, a false feminist, a hypocrite, of having failed myself.

I have been told I should have yelled, I should have fought back, I should never have gone into the room, I should have called the police, I should have been smarter, I should have been better, I should have tried harder, I shouldn’t have let it happen.

I have been told I shouldn’t have let myself be raped.
I have been told that the aforementioned facts make rape impossible.
I have been told that I was not raped.

I have been told so very many things.

But now I have something to say.

I was raped. Now, listen.

The day after I was raped, I went to a close friend, told her the facts and asked her if I had been raped. She said yes. I went to my mother, pretended what had happened to me had happened to a friend, presented her the facts, asked her if it was rape. She said yes. I anonymously posted in an online crisis forum, presented the facts, asked it was rape. Yes.

Three perspectives and one unanimous decision: rape.  

But there was still one person who didn’t believe it: myself. I didn’t want to believe it.

I didn’t want what happened and I sure as hell didn’t want to be a rape victim. I didn’t want that to be a part of who I was. I didn’t feel like a rape victim, or least how I imagined a rape victim was supposed to feel. I felt ok, mostly, sometimes. At least that what I told myself. So I tried to carve out that part of me. I tried to bury it so deep inside me that I would never find it again. But it was always there. I felt like I was standing on a beach, unable to move, watching a giant wave coming towards me, knowing that it would crash over me, suffocating me, trying to drown me, but leaving me just alive enough to stand there in dread for the next wave to come.

The truth is I always knew it was rape. I just believed that it was not the right kind of rape, as if there were such things as a right kind of rape. It was confusing, subtle, awkward, uncomfortable. It wasn’t what I thought rape would be. I thought I was the wrong kind of rape victim. I never thought it would happen to me. I certainly didn’t think it would happen like this. And I was ashamed. I believed that I had failed myself, my family, my friends, my feminism. And because of that I believed I deserved to suffer for it. And the ultimate punishment I chose to inflict on myself was silence: if I couldn’t make my voice heard then, why did I deserve to have it heard now?

And then one day, under less than ideal circumstances, it came vomiting out of me. That night was the first time I said it: I was raped. That was also the first time I had to defend that statement. And I’ve been defending it ever since.

I thought the hardest part about being raped was the rape. It’s not. It’s the aftermath, it’s the after rape.

It’s the manner of personal questions you’ll be asked, it’s the accusations that’ll be made, it’s the disbelief you’ll face, it’s the feeling of having no agency, it’s the loss.  I lost my voice the night I was raped, and every accusation, every doubt, tempts me into silence once again. It has been hard to speak, to remember what I sound like, what my voice is.
In the process of recovering it I have, very painfully, lost some love and people along the way. Some people I loved very, very much. I expect after I write this I may lose a few more. And though it eviscerates me, I have to make my peace with it. Because I choose myself.

I was raped. Now, listen.

I always knew my rape would hurt other people. It has and will raise a great many painful issues for people in my life. My parents wonder if they failed me, if they should have taught me better, if only they'd given me one final safety lesson, then maybe it wouldn't have happened. But wonderful parents and a loving home are not inoculations against the diseases of this world. And to my parents, it never was your fault. There is only one person to blame and that is the person who raped me. There is no blame to be found anywhere else.

My friends wonder if it will happen to them---God I hope not. And it if is has, please know I love you. And it is not your fault. You did nothing wrong. You didn’t deserve your rape but it is yours. Many people will claim your rape. People who love you will claim your rape. It will become about them. And you will turn to them and take it back. Because it belongs to you.

The ones who really love you, the ones who are worth your love, will be there, they will put aside what they're going through to be there. And they are genuinely going through something, because it is immensely painful as a parent, friend, partner, peer to know someone you love was raped -. It creates feelings of failure, anger, retribution, depression, despair, pain. It is so very painful. But here's what anyone who cares for a rape victim needs to know---whatever pain you're going through, no matter how valid---it is not more painful than rape. I promise you that.

All of it, the event, the aftermath, the discomfort, the confusion, the pain, the healing, it all belongs to you. I was raped because someone did not listen. But what truly shocked me was how little I was listened to afterwards. How often I was told rather than heard. How often I was told what to do rather than asked what I wanted to do.  How often I was told how to feel rather than asked how I felt.

I think that this has been the hardest part for those around me to accept;, the differences between their feelings and mine. It’s been hard for me too. The people who love me got angry and I’m not. They’re entitled to their anger, and I’m entitled to my lack thereof, but they are not entitled to place the burden of their anger on me. And that’s what it is: a burden. Their anger is about them, it’s for them, it’s not for me. It doesn’t help me, it doesn’t heal me. It harms, it violates, it takes away from what I am going through and makes it about them.

My rape never made me angry----I felt sad, tired, confused, exhausted, uncomfortable, strange, distant, scared but never angry. I’m sure some people do but it just wasn’t what I experienced. And in that dichotomy, between my experience of rape and the way others experience the reveal or the retelling of my rape, is where I have most struggled with this.

Someone I love very much, chastised me for not seeking retribution. They could not understand it. They saw it as a failing on my part. They found my lack of anger utterly alien. They claimed that the things I say and believe about women and feminism would ring just a little hollow if I did not seek justice whether through the law or vigilantism. They told me there was a right way to handle my rape and that I was handling it all wrong.

That haunted me. Every fear I had about the rape itself, all the self-doubt, was repeated and paralleled in this interrogation of my after rape. Had I failed my principles, had I failed my beliefs? Was I a hypocrite and a liar? Did I make a mistake? Did I fail? Was what I was feeling wrong? Was I the wrong kind of rape? Was I the wrong kind of rape victim?

I was raped. Now, listen.

Whenever I travel, it has always been my habit to keep a blog chronicling my experiences. It’s always been a practice I have approached with eagerness and excitement. However, a few years ago, while conducting research in Bangladesh, my weekly task of writing because a source of dread. For the first time in all my wandering, I was really struggling to assimilate. I was experiencing unhappiness, discomfort, confusion, and a general lack of self. But I was embarrassed and ashamed and I didn’t want people to know. I didn’t feel I was allowed to be those things, to have those feelings, to share those feelings. And my writing suffered, my research suffered, and I suffered for it. It was only when I risked the vulnerability of honoring myself and not the vision of myself others had, or that I believed others had, that I was able to authentically represent my research, my writing, and myself.

This was an important lesson for me - because it is in writing I have always found my bravery, my vulnerability, my power, my voice.

In the aftermath of my rape, I have been desperately seeking my voice, searching for a way to take my power back. And so I return to the platform that has always served as my compass and guide. My whole life, whenever I felt lost, it’s the written word, my words,  that allow me to heal, to regain my autonomy, that show me the way back to myself. I have never felt a greater loss of self than my life after rape. And it’s why I must write with more purpose and vulnerability than I ever have before. It’s why I am putting my personal life out there for the world to do with what it will. It terrifies me. I can’t take this back. Once it’s out there, all it will take is a simple Google search, and any stranger will find this. I’ll never be able to hide my rape again. And that’s exactly why I have to write this. Because I shouldn’t have to hide, I shouldn’t have to be silent. And no one else should either.

A very amazing woman I knew in college recently published a blog about her own experience with sexual assault while serving in the Peace Corps. I encourage you to read it here: I was moved not only by the strength of her writing but the sense of relief that flooded me when I read her blog. Relief because it wasn’t just me. Because the things I had felt and experienced, even the very facets of my specific rape, were reflected in her experiences, in her rape. The emotions and actions, both during and afterward, that I believed bastardized my rape, that I thought delegitimized my rape, were in fact the very elements that made it so terrifyingly common.

Every day I seem to discover another woman I know who has been raped. Regardless of age, race, gender, it’s happened to them, to us. Rape and sexual assault have become the universal experience of being a woman.  If our current global rates of rape were a virus, we would have a pandemic. And we do. And yet there is so much silence. And it is killing us. Because in that silent shame we fill our minds with thoughts of self loathing and harm. We convince ourselves that we are at fault, that we are bad, that we are base, and that we deserve it, that we asked for it. You did not deserve your rape. You did not ask for it. You have worth. You are good, you are good.

We don’t tell our friends, our partners, our families, much less the judgmental and anonymous world. We keep it to ourselves and it’s only by chance, by witnessing or a performing brave act of vulnerability, that we ever learn just how un-alone we are, that a little light appears in the shadows, that an echo full of empathy and despair dares to ask ‘You too?’ It’s a coven full of the best women I know. It’s a sisterhood based on compassion and caring, built on an understanding that the rest of the world does not share. Yet it also a community oppressed by silence. What I wanted most after my rape was to have someone to turn to, some precedent, someone I knew. But I couldn’t. Because I didn’t want to put that loaded gun into anyone else’s hands. I didn’t want to have to educate people about my rape before I’d had a chance to understand it myself. But that’s what happens when silence becomes the paradigm---it doesn’t protect or shield, it simply offers someone else a chance to fill the void, it allows other to people to speak and decide and judge and decree. If we don’t tell our stories, some one else will.

I had a teacher in high school who opened the first class of the school year with a syllabus and a frank announcement: She had multiple sclerosis. I never saw a fellow student react to it, we took the information in, and went back to reading about how the tests were curved. But as I sit here writing this piece, making my frank announcement on ‘the first day of school,’ I realize how much that must of scared her shitless - because that how’s I feel right now: What if everyone reads this? What if no one does? What if there is backlash and more vitriol? What will my high school teacher think of me? My friends? My parents? Former co-workers? My current classmates? What will the world see, what will they think of me? What will people say? I worry about the professional repercussions of this. I worry about the personal repercussions of this. But more than that I worry about what will happen if I don't speak, what will happen to my story, what will happen to the stories of millions of other women? I couldn’t tell my story until I heard some one else speak out. And it saved my life. So now I’m speaking out for myself, for her, for you. Because if we never speak, we’ll never be heard.

I have always believed that our stories are what defined us. So despite being petrified about what torrent this will unleash, despite worrying about what the world will spit this back in my face for the rest of my life, despite fearing no one person will read this, I have to write it. Because it is my story and no matter what happens, no one gets to tell my story but me.

I was raped. Now, listen.

There are many nuances to rape but, not to over simplify, at the end of the day rape is about power. It is about the disrespect of another person’s autonomy. It is about someone not only not asking but not listening. I was raped because someone did not ask and they did not listen. After my rape, I experienced further trauma because people did not ask and they did not listen. I have been told over and over and over again what I should have done, what I should do, what I am. I have had my character, my beliefs, my sanity, even the very event of my rape questioned and debated.  I have had my own rape weaponized against me as means of shaming, torturing, and punishing me. I have been told to smile, to shut up, to die.


I said it then and I will say it again now: No. My answer is no.

I will not be ashamed. I will not be coerced. I will not handle this the way anyone but myself sees fit. Because this is my rape. This is my narrative and I am reclaiming it. That is my act of revenge. My act of retribution is to banish the weight of shame and secrecy and to be able to say: I was raped. My act of defiance is to speak it again and again and again until it is just another sentence is the epic of my life. Because my life will be an epic.

I was raped. Now, listen.

After everything, after the rape and its terrible aftermath, I still genuinely believe people are good. Someone told me that was a naive thing to say. That my belief in the good in people is what put me in 'the kind of situation where you can get raped.'

My father's favorite story about me, the story he always uses to describe who I am as a person is this: When I was young, about seven or eight, I played on a soccer team. I was, as anyone who knows me realizes, a thoroughly crappy soccer player.  There was a girl on the team who was an excellent player, and who, as these stories often go, also didn’t like me, and took every opportunity to mock and belittle me. During one particular game, this girl accidentally received a very hard ball kick to the face and crumpled to the ground in pain. What happened next is why my father tells this story, because even though this girl was my tormentor, my instant reaction was to dart out from the sidelines and run to her side, checking to make sure she was alright. I didn’t do it because I thought it would get her to stop bullying me, or to show off, I did it because she was just a little kid in pain, like me, because it was the right thing to do, because it was the human thing to do.

I'm still that girl. And I won't have that taken from me. I'm the girl who runs on the field. I'm the woman who gets raped and believes that there is still immense good in this world. If some think that's naive, so be it, if some see that as a betrayal of self, so be it. But I think the worst thing that could happen would be to lose that part of myself. For that would be a true and irreparable loss. Something was taken from me against my will. But I will be damned if I am willing lose a part of myself because of that.

In a few days, it will be a new year. My mother has a New Year’s day tradition that she calls her New Year’s run. It’s a simple concept, she goes on her first run of the new year and thinks only of happy thoughts, mitzvahs, blessings. It is the one run a year devoted exclusively to gratitude, to joy. No matter what, on that day she honors joy. And though I will be thousands of miles away and five hours ahead of her, I will honor the tradition of her run with one of my own.

And when I go for that run and bring in the New Year---for the first time since my rape I will not be dogged by this burden anymore. I will not be eaten alive by hiding it, defending it, explaining it. I will be living with it, not at war with it, not paralyzed by it. I will not be standing on that proverbial beach, before that wave, sputtering and struggling, waiting to drown. I’m going for a swim. I’ve no shame, no secrets, no silence left in me any more.

I was raped and I did not deserve it.  I was raped and it was not my mistake. I was raped and that does not make me a bad feminist, daughter, friend, partner or person. I was raped and that does not make me naïve, weak, or less than.  I was raped and I have no obligation to heal, to want, to do, to say anything I don’t want to.  I was raped and it is a part of who I am, it is a part of my story, it is a part of me. But it’s not all of me and it never will be.

I am still the girl who runs on the field who believes in people, in good, in hope.
I am.

I am still kind and ferocious.
I am still myself.
I am.
I am.
I am.

Now, listen.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Where My Ladies At?

(The Globe Theatre)

Though I have only been in London for a few brief months, I have had the great fortune to already consider myself a regular attendee of the London theatre scene. I’ve had all kinds of visceral responses: I’ve wept, I’ve laughed, and I’ve been bored to delirium. In short, I’ve been to the theatre. But as I add more and more shows to my tally, I feel an uncomfortable and familiar pattern starting to emerge and I find myself asking a rather deflating question:

Where are the women?

I don’t mean the female characters. They’re there. Technically. But they’re shadows, not fully flushed out human beings. And I don’t think it’s the female actors who are to blame.  You can see them, fighting for their lives, giving their whole energy and commitment only to be told: ‘Tone it down. Be more shattered. Scream a little.’ Because that’s the refrain I see being repeated across the stage. Women who are told to either fall apart with weeping or with wails but nothing in between. And I don’t understand it.

I’ve seen a great deal of classical, or classically inspired, theatre of late (i.e Shakespeare, the Greeks) so that’s the focus of my example. I’ve no intention of referring to any specific production---I don’t think this a problem specific to any one production, rather the state of theatre in general.

Here’s what I don’t understand: Why is it that we can rattle off a thousand different interpretations of Hamlet but Ophelia never changes? I’ve seen Hamlets that were engulfed by madness, simply indecisive, or childishly incapable of dealing with grief. I’ve never seen Hamlet played the same way twice. I have yet to see any real difference in Ophelia’s portrayal---all of them are just a different attempt at the same Platonic ideal. Why is there only one way to play a woman but an endless amount of ways to play a man?

It has been suggested to me by different people at different times that, perhaps, this disease is localized somewhere in the text: ‘Because maybe the character is just written that way.’ Well that’s just bad historical research.

To borrow from the play itself: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Ophelia is not written as a weak character. The only things that are definitive about Ophelia are the lines of text assigned to her. That’s it. Nothing else is fact: not her exits nor her entrances, not her character description. All that ‘is’ Ophelia are the words following her name in the playscript. When we eschew the responsibility for our choices and lay the burden solely on the text we do a disservice to the work, the audience, and ourselves. And against no one is the crime so routinely committed as women. Because what we’re actually talking about when we use the text to justify weak, unchanging female characters, what we’re actually performing is not the text but the patriarchy. The only reason for Hamlet’s variety and Ophelia’s stagnation is a matter of gender---the gender of the characters and the gender of the theatre makers.

No to run the risk of engaging in political debate but, to run the risk of engaging in political debate, that’s part of the reason I’m voting for Hilary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Because it means something to see a woman as President. And I don’t know if you can imagine how much that means until you’ve gone two hundred years without knowing what that looks like. Weak Ophelias are not the result of the text---they’re the result of a lack of female producers, directors, writers, stage managers, etc. in the arts. Representation means something, don’t let anyone else ever convince you otherwise.

Now, I don’t think this is a predicament exclusive to any one city or any one theatre or any one artistic genre---in fact, all the problems I mention in this post I have witnessed repeatedly in many of worlds most renowned theatrical and artistic cities. Nor, do I make any claim to have seen even the majority of the shows currently running on West End or throughout the rest of London.  I would be happily surprised to see this pattern discontinued in any and all future shows I attend.  But I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that’s not going to be the case, not right now anyway. 

If I am to put one caveat on this piece it’s this: these opinions, these expressions of self and thought are not weighted down with a sense of disdain or apathy. Apathy is the enemy of the theatre. I hold these beliefs and these opinions and yes, these criticisms and disappointments, because I have hope. I hold such hope for the theatre.

This past week I stood on the stage of The Globe. The Globe is a 1997 reconstruction of the original 1599 theatre; Shakespeare’s theatre. It is sacred ground.  After we had finished our movement master class, a few of us lingered on the stage, basking in the space. Tours continued in and out of the theatre while we breathed it all in. At the behest of a friend and, truth be told, my own apparent eagerness, I stood on that stage and I recited, bellowed fourth the monologue that was my undergraduate swan song and the piece that secured my place at graduate school. It was a King’s monologue, a man’s monologue. And yet it was I, a woman, who was performing it, performing it on the stage of the Globe.

Because when your voice reverberates from the rafters of The Globe, your gender, your color, you orientation doesn’t matter. Can you make those timbers echo with your voice? If you can do that, then you can play any part meant for that stage. To be on that stage, that is my dream. That is the place I want to be, that is the place my peers of different genders and colors and orientations want to be.  I don’t believe in a theatrical future where that’s not possible. To put it quite simply, I won’t stand for it. I shouldn’t and no artist or audience member should either.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, of 981 characters only 16% of them were written and gendered as female. That was also four hundred years ago, when a woman was legally considered the property of a man, whether it be her father or her husband, for the entirety of her life. It should scare the shit out of us that the majority of our theatrical productions still reflect that sentiment.  Repeating the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity. Hamlet’s been predominately played by a white male for four centuries. Doesn’t that seem a little insane to you?

The theatre is my home. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But it can do better. We can do better. We must. To quote Rachel Cusk’s recent adaptation of Medea, “I will dismantle you.”

And we will. And I can’t wait to participate in that rebuilding.

(Me crying with happiness to be at the Globe Theatre)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Compass Rose

In this blog I have oft acknowledged myself as a nomad. I call myself that not because I am person without a home, but rather because I am creature who counts the hearts of many places and people to be her home. Despite my wandering ways, my inherent nomadism has always been transposed with purpose; I go where I’m called, wherever the compass deep within my vitals points me. But for all my years of wandering, my due north has always remained constant: London.

For almost all of my living memory, London has been the scene of my hopes and aspirations. To me, London belongs to the stuff of dreams and legends. It’s magic come to life.

During the opening number of the musical Into the Woods, each of the fairytale characters laments that which they do not have; ‘I wish.’ As Cinderella wished to go the ball, I wished for the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), the oldest acting school in the UK and one of the greatest acting institutions in the world.

And like Cinderella, I got my wish.

But what happens when you wish upon a star and ‘Poof’ you’re there. How does it all measure up, when one very really walks through a world that once was only the stuff of dreams?

Into the Woods is a brilliant musical because it defines the parameters of its world with the barbed duality of fairytales. On the one hand, fairytales always come to a happy ending: the forlorn young (and I mean young) woman finds her prince, the evil monster is destroyed, poverty is lifted and all becomes right with the world. These endings are immensely satisfying. How could they not be? They are tidy, they are clean, they offer us balance and symmetry. But that’s because they’re not actually endings. It’s the end of our audience participation in the tale, but life for Cinderella does not simply cease the day after she marries the prince. Somewhere, trailing off of the final flourished word of these venerable folk tales, a dawn rises on the day after happily ever after. And, even though we’re never privy to that world, we know that that’s the unspoken epilogue of all these stories. It’s why for all their satisfying qualities, fairytales are often quite unsatisfying. They’re not complete, they’re just truncated.

Hence why the Shakespearean tragedy is so much more satisfying on a visceral level. The only truly satisfying, unquestioned, finite ending is death. And all of Shakespeare’s tragedies end in the death. There’s no question regarding ‘the day after’ at the end of a Shakespearean tragedy because everyone is probably dead. Or at least all the characters you care about. Unless you’re a major fan of Fortinbras or Friar Lawrence, but those are your own crosses to bear. Those are endings that provide satisfaction, albeit at an immense cost.

I’ve been granted the wish of my life---the circumstances of any decent fairytale. And yet I have within me a discord far more familiar to Hamlet than Snow White.

I find my arrival in London to be defined by contradictory emotions. I am so happy to be here and so sad for what I have left behind. The wonderful thing about dreams, fantasies, hopes, is that they can walk side by side with our real lives---the lives we foster and grow whilst in the pursuit of our dreams. Yet when the dream comes true, when one gets into LAMDA, there is a breaking of that synchronicity.  Suddenly, we no longer have a dream and a life that exist in tandem, but two lives that cannot co exist. We are forced to put one before the other, to play favorites, between the two lives that nourished our body and our soul. And in between those two great mechanisms we find our heart struggling desperately not to be crushed.

It hurts. It hurts to leave behind, even if only temporarily, those lives of ours that spring up betwixt our stumbling quest to materialize that sacred wish. Because they are important, as important as the dream, for without both we could not live. We need our dreams but so do we require life. I was a child who had no better friend than her imagination. I have always believed our tender hopes, and our desire to see them manifested, are essential to our human condition. But life cannot simply be a wish.

London, LAMDA. This has always been my dream. I’ve left home so many times. Yet this departure seemed to rip into the deepest parts of me. How could a part of me not want this? How could I betray myself in such a way? How could a part of me be so euphoric about leaving? How could I betray myself in such a way? It’s difficult to reconcile the way heartbreak and happiness can co exist, to be so blissful and so bereft.
But aren’t those the paradoxes that form the foundation of the world? What is theatre but a paradox inside a paradox inside an actual box? Is that what dreamers, travelers, actors, nomads, writers, advocates, artists, wanderers, people must learn to do? To balance, what we hold dear with what we dearly wish to hold?

Admire them though I do, I’ve no wish to live in a tragedy. Admire them though I do, I’ve no wish to live in a fairytale. So what then? What lies between?

Every time I leave on any kind of adventure----returning to college after winter break, traveling to Bangladesh for a summer, moving to London for a year---my mother always tucks away a secret note somewhere in my luggage.  They are always beautiful cards filled with glitter, love, and sentiment. But even though my mother had already out done herself, with two, count’em two, cards, she also included a separate letter. (It would seem my possession to write should come as no surprise.)

In her letter to me she opened with a quote from the Talmud, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

Who I am as an actor, lover, artist, friend, daughter, feminist, writer---it’s a work unfolding. Every category of self I belong to requires my commitment and dedication. But they do not, and never have, required my perfection.  Sometimes we feel grief at our happiest, sometimes we find joy in the deepest of mournings. None of these feelings exist in a state of mutual exclusivity with each other. They all exist on the same color wheel of emotionality. The crime is not that I am sad to leave behind the life I built in America, the crime is not how wondrously happy I am to be starting this expedition in London. Both possess an essential part of my life’s work and as such, I am not free to abandon either.

The good wanderer knows that the departures that rip you to shreds are the only ones worth having. Because if you can endure that kind of pain then you’re on the only kind of adventure worth having.

I imagine that as a nomad, artist, global citizen---my life will always be a bit stop-start. As happy to be where I am as where I’m going. But one joy is not a betrayal of the other. I love a good fairytale as much as a good tragedy. My sadness does not lessen the more time I spend in London, but nor do my joy and gratitude abate one ounce. Rather, what I come to understand is that both can live at peace with one another. For what unites these seemingly disparate sentiments, my seemingly separate lives, is the work I know I must do. My world, my family, my dreams, my love, my hopes, my friends, whatever or whoever they be, are the offshoots of what roots me as a human being, that which makes me myself.

What lies between a fairytale and a tragedy? The work.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The End of And

I've never written a word about guns in America. I don't make public declarations, I don't speak about devastation or loss or mental health or male privilege. I don't tell anyone what I think or what I feel. I play it close to the chest. For the shootings that make me cry---(and, no, I don't cry for all of them because there are just so, so many)--- I do so privately and then it's done. I read the arguments and debates others post. I listen to their speeches, their outrage, their pain. And I call my mother.

 It was a habit I picked up in college. I always called just to tell her that I was ok. Even though it was never my campus, I just wanted her to know that I was alright. That it hadn't happened to me. Even now, even though I am in London, a land as devoid of guns as Ireland is of snakes, I still called. Thousands of miles away and I still can't shake that particular American habit. I've just done it so many times at this point; it’s muscle memory.

But this time the call wasn't for her benefit. It was for mine.

I never understood before why my mother so needed me to call. She knew where the shootings were. She knew I was ok. Why was the sound of my voice so important? But distance has afforded me another kind of perspective.

My first night in England I was sitting around the table with a group people, all British, all my age, and I made an off handed joke about a gun. We all laughed and one of them quipped back, "Oh you Americans, always reaching for your guns." The conversation continued and it was all soon forgotten. And just a few days later nine people were massacred and seven wounded by someone, by an American, who did just that, who ‘just’ reached for a gun. Or thirteen.

Standing at The Globe Theatre, waiting for the performers to come out, a few of us Americans on my program got to chatting. We talked about the shooting, how tragic it was. We reminisced---not about a time in our lives before such shootings but a time when there was, “Only one a year, every year and a half. Remember that? There's always one but it was just one. And it was just high school.” But it's not that any more. It's happened at high schools, private colleges, public colleges, community colleges, elementary schools, movie theaters, churches, religious school houses, military bases, offices, temples, hair salons, supermarkets, malls, reservations, dorms, trains, homes…

It goes on. And it will keep going on.

 That night, taking the tube home, I thought about all of those places, all of those average places where these unimaginable events unfolded. I thought of my friend who works on a university campus and whose sister and mother are teachers. I thought of my boyfriend and all the people I've known who went to a community college just like the one in Oregon. I thought of my mother substitute teaching at a Jewish day school.

My mind filled with the faces of all the people I love and all the average places that they go. All the average places that were average to others too once. Until they weren't.

What would I say? What words could I possibly offer? What would I say to my friend? To my boyfriend's mother? What words could anyone offer my parents? What words could anyone offer me?

And there are none. There are none. There are none. There are none.

There are only echoes of lives that might have been lead.

And the sound of those reverberations are deafening.

This has to stop. It just has to stop.

To be frank, if I had my way, it’d be as hard to get your hands on a gun as it currently is for a woman to get an abortion in Oklahoma. Or South Carolina. Or Texas. Or the other fifteen or so states with similar primeval restrictions on women’s bodies.

There is no reason, simply none, that we cannot find a way to implement better, smarter, preventative, restrictions on guns. I don’t believe we’ll ever eliminate guns. But when something is unsafe, and our current guns measures are unsafe, the only thing to do is work to make it safer. We’ve done it with hospitals, surgeries, cars, airplanes, trains, factories, mines, construction sites, even sewer systems and toilets.  Why hasn’t this happened with guns?

Because something else has to stop as well: we have to stop talking about this and do something. (NB: That something is not buy more guns.) Contact your local representatives and make sure that they know that this madness will no longer be tolerated. Because if we don’t do something, if we don’t act, a few months from now we’ll be back here again, having the same conversation we had just a little while ago and just a little while before that. 

We are a country in crisis. The rest of the world can see it. Why can’t we?

My apologies for distracting from the purpose of this blog. I just wanted to tell my mom that I'm ok. That I'm still ok.

But Sarena, Lawrence, Lucas, Quinn, Jason, Lucero, Kim, Treven, and Rebecka are not ok. The victims of Tuscon, Charleston, Aurora, Blacksburg, Newton, Columbine, Fort Hood, Binghampton, Washington Navy Yard, Nickel Mines, and the countless more, they are not ok.

Please, no more places, no more names. No more additions. No more ‘ands.’ No more. Not one.