A fraction of a day
Back when we all had blogs, it used to be that if I had nothing worth saying, I would post a flurry of photographs to distract from my silence, a kind of pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain trick. I was taking photos on film, 24 to 36 exposures per roll, so there was always plenty of material on hand to fill the gaps. Of course, it got more difficult after I had a child, and especially after that child was no longer a baby. My favored subject in writing and photography has always been everyday life, and my photos were full of my child, our home, our people. I wanted to protect her, and us as a family, from the Internet — its scrutiny, its entitlement, its long memory, its dangers both present and potential — and privately, I set new limits on my work in order to do that.
Still, I have been reminded many times in my years as a writer of personal narrative and a podcast co-host that by doing the work I do, I am choosing a life of exposure — that to make the work I make, and to offer it for public consumption, is in effect to forfeit my privacy, not to mention my family’s. It is always older men who tell me this, though my life today contains few of them. They find a way to let me know. They say it as though I were an idiot, as though I were running naked through the street, all my passwords and PIN numbers and darkest secrets raining like confetti onto a crowd of onlookers.
I have tried to ignore these men, at least within reason, because I love my work. I am not my writing, per se, but my writing is me. I am a writer. And I am lucky to know, too, that my work means something to the people who read it and/or listen to it, because you write to tell me so, and I thank you for that. Anyway, there are plenty of jobs — like, most jobs? A literal majority of jobs? — with more exposure, more public-facing hours, more actual physical and emotional risk — than what I do. As we’ve seen in the United States recently, it turns out that being an elementary school teacher is a high-risk job, as is working in a supermarket.
Yesterday I put in some volunteer hours for my child’s school. It had been planned for a while, a big culminating overnight trip for two of the elementary classrooms, and I was one of a half-dozen parents who drove kids to and from their destination. On the outbound leg, I was responsible for two seven-year-olds, neither of whom I’d met before. On the return, I had my own child in tow, plus a little boy in her class. The trip entailed taking a brief ferry in each direction, during which we took our carloads of children up onto the passenger deck to stretch their legs and eat a quick snack. I’d worked from home the day before, the day of the Uvalde massacre, so the ferry was the first enclosed public place I’d entered since the shooting. I hated that I had to think about it as we climbed the stairs from the car to the deck — that my mind registered the fact that these children were the same age and size as the victims in Uvalde, that I worried less about whether anyone needed to use the bathroom or tie her shoelaces than I did about what to do if there were an active shooter on the boat.
I was only responsible for these children for a fraction of a day. My child’s teacher assumes responsibility for the lives of a whole classroom of children seven hours a day, five days a week, nine months of the year. I can only imagine all she worries about. In the wake of the Uvalde massacre, some conservative politicians have doubled down on proposals that schools hire armed guards. It seems there is no public space where risk cannot be privatized.
I was only responsible for those children for a fraction of a day, but I felt terrorized by an awareness that is not new but increasingly frantic that we live in a country where a minority1 leadership comprised primarily of older white men who value power and money more than actual living breathing human beings is allowed to spout drivel like guns don’t kill people, people kill people and will fight to the death — all of our deaths, it seems at this point — to defend the delusion that the right to bear arms applies to semiautomatic firearms, a type of weapon that was invented a full century after the ratification of the Second Amendment and whose sale and/or possession has been restricted and/or banned by nearly every other country on Earth2 — and this, this happens to be the country where I am a citizen, where brought a child into the world, where we continue to live at our own risk, where am trying my damnedest to get through the day, the week, the year, long enough to let her grow up.
If you haven’t yet, go read Anne Helen Petersen’s “This Is What Happens When You Live Under Minority Rule.”
Take a look at the maps in this Wikipedia entry. Also, a vital read: “How to Prevent Gun Massacres? Look Around the World.”