Ways to abate the hand wringing

Today I learned, like all of you, that there has been another mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. This made my heart hurt. It made my stomach bottom out and quickly changed my outlook on what I thought would be a good day. When these mass shootings happen - and yes, I know that they’re still rare, all things considered - I feel conflicting emotions. I feel foolish feeling anything when I compare myself to those who lost friends and family members in the incident. I feel an immediate and intense need to make it better, but I don’t know how. Then I feel resigned. I say, “Well, this is the country we live in. It’s a country that has a mass shooting problem, but I’m not going to live my life any differently out of fear.”

And I’m not. I refuse to do that. I also refuse to let the resigned feeling win. The “there is nothing I can do about this feeling.” Because that feeling comes with a lot of anxious fretting. Trust me, I am really, really good at anxious fretting. Just this morning, within like five minutes of us waking up, in fact, I told J that I was concerned about a couple things. The first thing was about a story I’d written on assignment that hasn’t been published yet and how should I continue to approach the editor in a firm but polite manner? The second was that I’ve been eating less healthily for several months now, and I want to stop because I want to feel more energetic, but it’s really hard, especially with all the Halloween candy we’ve got lying around.

J told me that I should just stop eating the candy, and I replied that that was the kind of answer a dude would typically give, and he said he was sorry, but that it was kind of difficult when I bombarded him with my worries first thing in the morning, something he’s told me - and I’ve written about - before.

This is nothing, nothing, compared to the bigger issues I am also addressing here. This horrific shooting followed an emotional midterm election and the disbelief I felt watching our president yell like a tantruming child at reporters yesterday, then try to limit the free press.

It feels ridiculous and wrong to say all these things in the same sentence, like they carry the same weight - they don’t - but what I am trying to get at is that right now - TODAY - is prime time for feeling resigned, overwhelmed, worried, fretful, nervous and like you just can’t take it anymore.

And what I am saying is that I’m pretty practiced at that skill. But I am going to try my hardest not to do it because while it’s certainly understandable - I mean, I’m not judging anyone who feels that way in the slightest - it’s also fruitless.

There’s this quote J wripped out of a newspaper years ago that I have pinned to the bulletin board above my desk at home:


I’m not talking about finding happiness in this post. But I can’t stop thinking about “attending to” the things that matter. I’m not a lobbyist or a politician but I am capable of doing a little research. So I decided to collect a few ways you can act to make a difference, or just feel better when the world seems beyond your control. It’s not.

  • Donate to, volunteer with or start a local chapter of March For Our Lives, the movement that erupted following the Parkland shooting

  • Read this Adam Gopnik article in the New Yorker, “The Simple Truth About Gun Contol” from all the way back in 2012. I don’t know if it’ll make you feel better - hell, it might make you feel worse since some of our country’s leaders can’t seem to even consider the kind of nececessary change he outlines - but this is one of the best, most logical pieces I’ve read on the issue, and I think about it a lot.

  • Have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you. I’ve written about this before, specifically concerning guns (Cara, shut up about things you’ve written about before) but I can’t express enough the effect that talking to gun owners had on me. I’ve been thinking about ways to increase this type of conversation since. Here’s a great piece on the TED site on how to talk about politics constructively with people on the other side of the aisle. Constructively, and, ahem, minus the rage.

  • Donate or volunteer with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Read their literature and about their projects and remember that people are working hard to fix this problem.

  • Exercise. Go for a run or to a gym to workout with other people. No, this isn’t political action but it’s a good way to take care of yourself, and, hey, if you’re going to be a good, helpful, citizen, you’ve gotta be around and able and healthy. I like to run with our dog, who acts like we are training for the goddamn Iditarod, giving what would be a relaxed jog a much more serious air. I also go to classes at Tuff Girl, which is an amazing gym here in Hamden. Today I was looking around the room at all the strong women there getting even stronger while upbeat music played, and I couldn’t help thinking, “WORK IT, because we might have to take down the patriarchy TODAY.” But, I mean, the general idea I’m going for here is that it’s better to get up and burn that nervous energy rather than sit there let it consume you.

  • Get involved with Sandy Hook Promise. Donate, read up on their programs or start one at your school.

  • Work with your strengths. I was screaming in my head this morning, “Journalists should just cover gun violence and the people trying to make it better 100 percent of the time!!!” First of all, that’s kind of impossible. Also, there are amazing journalists doing just this who deserve more praise than they get. And finally, I am a writer. And I can write about it if I want. What are you good at? Organizing groups of people to write to elected officials? Getting together with friends over drinks to decompress? Running for office yourself?

  • Donate to Everytown for Gun Safety. I know you feel like you want to go down to DC and yell at all the lawmakers. Maybe you can’t, but they can if they’ve got the funding in place. I’m donating to them right now. A small amount is fine.

  • Talk to your kids. Talk to them about bravery and being kind. Talk to them about gun violence if you want. The other day I discovered a school project of Nora’s in her backpack. The assignment was to write about a place that your family would like to move, if given the chance, and she’d written about Australia, because of all the beautiful scenery and because “they have better gun laws there.” I don’t think she wrote this out of fear or anger or anything other than the beautiful logic children often possess: it’s better to have better gun laws.

  • Write a letter to the editor or an op-ed. I have so much respect for those who share wisdom on social media, but many of us are preaching to the choir when it comes to places like Facebook and Twitter. There are newspapers all around the country that accept submissions. Words matter, and I’ve heard so many powerful words from so many amazing friends with unique perspectives. Get them out there to a broader community; to people who think differently than you. The OpEd project lists contact and submission information for tons of newspapers on its site, and its likely that your local paper clearly lists their submission criteria on their site, too, and that they’re anxious to hear from new voices. Let them hear yours.