This summer I cracked a toilet seat by sitting on it. This event caused me to start exercising, that led to jogging, that led to losing weight, that led to participating in a 5K last weekend. (I didn’t walk or throw up.) Without cracking that toilet seat, and looking up my BMI, and feeling chunky I wouldn’t have started exercising, or jogging, or losing weight. The toilet seat was my inciting incident.
An inciting incident is something that causes a character in a story to do something. Characters in stories, and people in life, tend to want to stay where they are. Something has to force them off the couch. This something is known as an inciting incident. I didn’t come up with this. This is how people who look at screenplays talk.
Yesterday there was a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
This event has just become an inciting incident in my life as a writer, and I hope more importantly in this country.
I just listened to my President, my Governor, my Senators, and an Oregon Representative talk about the shooting. I first heard the news yesterday via a news alert on my phone from The Guardian newspaper. I then looked at the New York Times and saw a Roseburg ambulance on the front page. Today I’ve read the commentary in the local papers.
It sounds like so much noise.
In many ways, my voice on this issue seems as necessary as another Presidential candidate for the 2016 election. Which is to say “Aren’t there are enough already?” and also at the same time “Is this all we got?”
This event seems too close to home for me to be silent.
President Obama said yesterday (and numerous times before that) that our “thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
The front page of the Statesmen Journal has a photo of a candlelight vigil and the headline: We Agree: ‘Thoughts and prayers are not enough’
I live in Oregon. I teach in Oregon.
I teach writing classes full of students who love guns and hunting and fishing and all the other quick character sketches people have been making about the former timber town of Roseburg. My students show me cell phone photos of their new firearms. On 9/11 two different students told me that they woke up early to clean and stroke their AK-47 rifles. Every week I see at least one piece of clothing or bumper sticker with the Second Amendment written on it.
I have spent a surprising amount of time recently trying to come up with better analogies for teaching. The trenches. The front lines. War. I thought for a while that the battle analogy was misguided, too militant. But I might be wrong. Trevor Noah started his run at the Daily Show this week by saying he would continue Jon Stewart (and friends) war on bullshit. I felt a few days ago pretty excited that I may have found my battle: A WAR ON BORING.
Maybe my war is a war on boring, or a war on apathy. I don’t know. I keep seeing front lines everywhere. All this to say: the war analogies might be appropriate. I hate many of the forced and delusional “culture war” narratives that we bounce back and forth. And yet, there are front lines everywhere.
Last year, at some school event, someone was joking that I was “packing heat” by pointing out that I had numerous pens hanging out of numerous pockets. “Just exercising my First Amendment right,” I said.
So I don’t know my battle exactly, but I suspect there are numerous ones I am called to fight. You too, whoever may read this.
I do know, however, that exercising is clunky and painful and awkward at first. Having difficult conversations doesn’t just happen. You need to practice. (This is me practicing, warming up, stretching.)
I hope that this latest tragedy will be the inciting incident for many positive things, though I have my doubts. I am preemptively cringing at a lot of what will be said, a lot of the noise. Some of that noise will be mine, I realize. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Let’s listen to each other, and offer solutions, and have the courage to do when doing is necessary.
I have some suspicions of what might be necessary in the many roads ahead, in the many battles we face. I am also aware that unstated suspicions aren’t much good to anyone.
I will follow this post up with more reasoned and thoughtful commentary, when I am capable of it. The predictable story arc of these kind of events has thus far played out like the others. What I hear on the radio, or read in the papers, or watch on news conferences online seems so familiar.
I feel sad and disheartened and scared and nervous because I realize thinking thoughts is not enough. And historically, that’s what I have always been, a thinker of thoughts.
I’m preparing to think my thoughts at you.
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