Monday, January 10, 2011
So today I wanted to talk about Saturday's shootings from my personal perspective, as a writer and as a former wanna-be public servant. This might not be well-structured or pull-quote worthy, and it might have some thoughts that wander off a cliff. But it will be honest. And unlike most of my posts over the last year, it probably won't contain one single "Yay!" Because I'm not feeling very "Yay!" today.
As noted in my bio, I got a graduate degree in environmental policy from University of Maryland (go Terps/fear the turtle/etc.). I had the highest GPA in my class, which is pretty amazing, considering I barely managed a B average in high school and undergrad. I was super driven to do my best because I really cared about public policy. I wanted to make the world a better place, as hokey as that sounds.
Later I got into an exclusive, fast-track employment program with the state government that could've led to a promising career (although with all the recession-era budget cuts I'd probably be out of that job by now, but anyway...). I was on my way, ready to do what was important to me.
But I couldn't handle the boredom and frustration. I'd worked office jobs for years before going back to grad school, but after enjoying the relative freedom and lack of structure that full-time classes gave me? I just couldn't do it anymore--the meetings, the memos, the something else that probably starts with 'm' but I've wasted five minutes trying to finish this sentence and it's time to move on.
Anyway...where was I? So yeah, I got bored and threw it all away to do this. I worked meaningless jobs to pay the bills while I worked toward getting published. (Note: I would NOT advise anyone else to quit a promising career and martyr your bank account on the altar of authordom. But for me, it was becoming a mental health issue.)
The gist of the matter is, I admire, on a deep personal level, people like Congresswoman Giffords and her staffers and the late Judge Roll and even the citizen supporters and constituents who came out for Congress on the Corner Saturday morning. They were out there doing their jobs and participating in a peaceful democratic gathering, despite all the death threats against them. Even the little girl who died wanted to go into public service one day.
So regardless of the motive, these people were killed because of who they were, because they cared enough about our country and their community to get involved and do something. It's easy for people outside the Beltway to forget, but government workers--yes, including politicians and their staff--are human beings. They're too often villainized or caricatured, not only in the news, but also in fiction. I'm guilty of this myself--the DMP, anyone?--even though I know better. I know that people who work for governments at all levels have to put up with a lot of shit for much less pay than they would make in the private sector for the same work. And last Saturday, as in 1995 in Oklahoma City, they had to put up with violence, even death.
We forget that firefighters, cops, librarians, and teachers are government workers. Those brilliant doctors who saved Giffords' lives? They work for the state university hospital. That makes them public servants, too. They're paid by our tax dollars, which are collected to be used for the common good, to meet needs that the free market can't.
That used to be me. But it hasn't been for a long time. It's been years since I even volunteered with Tails of Hope, the animal rescue organization we used to foster dogs for. There just hasn't been the time. Books have become everything. Writing them, rewriting them, blogging about them, traveling to promote them. There's barely room in my life anymore for my immediate family, much less the larger world I once actively cared so much about. I still get the newspaper, but it's a rare day when I read more than the sports page to see Mike Preston's latest rant about the Ravens' imperfections.
So a couple hours ago I tweeted/Facebooked, "Anyone else can't focus since Sat shootings? I feel like I felt after 9/11 & Katrina: like something in the world shattered." And then, "And when real-world events are so horrible, what happens in make-believe worlds just doesn't seem to matter much anymore." Because I was once again, as I was after those events, having an existential crisis, wondering if what I do now isn't just a self-indulgent exercise in making myself happy, rather than helping others.
I mean, if I'm content in my profession, if it's often fun despite being very hard and often crazy-making work, then it must not be worthy, right? (Where did I get this guilt complex? Seriously, my parents always told me to do whatever made me happy in life, so it's totally self-invented.)
So I began to write this blog, weeping, because a couple of tweets/status updates weren't enough to express the depths of my admiration for the likes of Giffords and my recurring "I'm not worthy" doubt over my own life choices. (The fact that the Let It Bleed rewrite is hitting a major roadblock isn't helping.)
And in the middle of writing this blog, someone on Facebook told me that my books (among others, though they had specifically requested that mine be brought to the hospital) had kept them going when they felt suicidal. They said, "My kids still have a mom in part because of what you do."
Now I'm full-on snot crying, and have gone through half a box of tissues. (I know, you desperately wanted those details, didn't you?) And I don't really know what my point is anymore. Because I guess what writers do is important. What doctors do is important (I'm sure my Facebook friend's physicians had a lot to do with her recovery). What politicians and judges and cops and grocery store clerks and people who work to make a better coffee machine do is important.
I guess my point, if there is one, is best said by the quote Congresswoman Giffords' reportedly has on her website as her favorite, by Mother Teresa:
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”
Um, so this is the new blog format. Rambly, with fair-to-middlin' grammar, but honest. And hopefully more frequent, though my commitment-phobic self ain't makin' any promises.
What do you think? About anything.