Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guns and Butter

Yesterday I was in my kitchen cooking mashed potatoes, on the phone with Georgia Rose, chilling with the back door open and then, all of a sudden, I heard BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG! Directly out my door, there was a shooting. I cannot tell you how loud, terrifying, and confusing it all was. The police found no blood, though witnesses saw a man on the ground who then disappeared. The cops found bullet shells (or whatever they're called) across the street in front of my neighbors house. And last weekend, I walked outside to find 15 cop cars on my street. I counted them. They said it was safe to leave the house, and I did, warily. I heard they found bullet shells in front of my next door neighbors' house that night, as well.

I keep getting mad at myself for feeling afraid. Like it makes me weak or something. Like I am not allowed to notice how tenuous life really is. In the past month I have had two friends have cancer scares (one is not out of the woods yet), one friend's father died, another friend survived a suicide attempt, another friend is dealing with being left by his long-term partner, and at least 2 shootings have occurred on my street. Looking even further outward, I notice the unspeakable tragedies of the attacks in India, consumers trampling a Wal-Mart employee to death, and fast-growing joblessness. Indeed, the Buddha had it right: Life is full of suffering.

And yet it is full of wonderful things, as well. In the midst of all of this, in the past month I have not only sat with the suffering, and suffered my own self, but have seen the exquisitely beautiful. We have elected Barack Obama. I have reached 32 years of age, in one piece. I worked hard on and sweated profusely during my project to teach a class on Myung Mi Kim's gorgeous book, Commons. It went really well. I presented my work in my fiction class on Lee Harvey Oswald on the 45th anniversary of his public murder. I began working on a syllabus for a community writing workshop I will teach next semester. I met poets who work "on the margins" of the writing community, outside of academia, and I have remembered that the human heart can survive, be fed, and be central to the writing I pursue. That, while I love my mind, as well as the minds of others, it remains necessary to come out of our heads and into our bodies. To tend to the living we must do. And finally, I have eaten the most delicious and buttery foods in a house full of lovely people on Thanksgiving day. Have been surrounded by people who fascinate me.

My friend Shelly called me up frantically the other day to tell me about a radio show she had heard called "Guns and Butter". It had been on the anniversary of the JFK assassination and she thought it might be of interest to me because, not only am I writing about Oswald, but also because guns and butter are recurrent themes in that writing. It was eerie. I looked it up and found that "Guns or Butter" is a common term used in economics to point to the necessity of governments to prioritize its needs. The theory says a government cannot have both. That, instead, each administration must decide to spend on military or civilian causes. That effective government chooses which to do when, wisely. And I read an article that accuses George W. Bush of choosing both, thus putting us in this terrible position we are in. I quite like the analogy and am fond of appropriating it to talk about things beyond economics. My life, as always, is filled with both. And while I prefer butter and hope to keep the balance tipped to that end, how does one measure? Upon which system shall I calibrate my devices? Which instrument can I use? Ariel Goldberg, my classmate, asked the other day whether having had Oswald's life tangled into my family history had been a blessing or a curse. In that space, I search. How to measure?

I am not in favor of suffering for Art's sake, but it continues to exist - despite Art. Perhaps Art is an expression of the Middle Way. A reach toward appreciation of "what is", while hoping for "what might yet be". Bhanu Kapil talks about wanting a book that "suffers" with the reader. I think that that book would only need to sit in the moment, feel the rubbing of two things beside one another. Explore the electrified sliver of space there. Bashfully, I admit to, like George W. Bush, preferring Guns AND Butter. After all, Butter alone makes one fat, slothful. Guns alone make the world unbearable and hungry. And though it began with bullets, I suppose this is my Thanksgiving blog of gratitude. Kahlil Gibran says children are the "sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself". I grope around, amongst you all, longing for this life.


Emily Joye said...

Hey. I saw your post on TA's blog and I was inspired to check you out. It's not often that I follow the rifts of brilliance from one blog site to the next. ;)

This post captures "it"...whatever "it" is about life. Hard for this lover of words to admit the "it" usually transcends language and shines forth through unexpected prisms. Your post (in all its directions and exceptional *?* words) is that prism for me today, so thanks.

antony said...

I'll take the butter! It might make you fat and sloth but at least you're having fun while you get there and heck, it all leads to suffering, right?

Hey very enriching post Michelle, not sure why I didn't get here earlier... looking forward to reading more!

Emily said...

Woman, you're amazing. And I miss you.

Lauren said...

Hi Butter Baby,
It's ok to be afraid :) Bobby and I were just talking about the Four Noble Truths yesterday (which was today for you when you wrote the post), so it's funny you brought it up.

Just because we couldn't remember, and you're already thinking about it:

1. All life is suffering

(we can read this as a definitive "is" or read is as "is suffering"--verbage to describe what life is doing. They are very different readings.)

2. The root of suffering is:
(depending on what translation you get)
a. attachment
b. desire
c. ignorance

they are linked and the same...ignorance i think sums it best

3. The cessation of suffering
(to be without suffering is possible)

4. The Way/The Eightfold Path
(the way which is not suffering)

Keep being brave and true. I love you <3

Tai Amri said...

hell yeah, i love that two of my most admired women are reading each other's blogs. what a world! guns a butter is such an apt analogy. i mean, i have to think about that every time i enter the pulpit, you know, am i going to speak those words that tear down the system or am i going to speak those words that lift up the people? it's hard to do both at the same time, but both must be done. i think for me it comes down to asking the question, what is it that i have been given to speak and is there anyone else who can fill the spaces that i cannot? sometimes someone else can do the gun thing so i can focus on the butter and vice versa. keep discerning. one.