I am a gut-level fan of the Waterboys song “Fisherman’s Blues“. It’s almost trite for someone who’s an Irish folkie to like this song, but I don’t care. I know even the opening notes by heart – Mike Scott’s chugging guitar, the first chiming mandolin chord, the first wheeze of the fiddle – and even just that is enough to make me smile. Play the whole thing and I usually end up tapping a foot, swaying slightly and singing along, happily sighing when the fiddle wraps around the mandolin during the bridge. By the second verse I’m usually singing – “…with light in my head, and you in my arms….WOO-HOO-HOO!” And sometimes, during the second bridge, when the drum and fiddle are twirling around each other I get out of my own seat and twirl around with them, totally caught up in it.
I’ve been wanting to write about a lot of the events of the past few days. But I just felt too helpless.
First the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine young people, dancing just as joyfully – albeit to other music – all of them shot by a madman, for no other reason than being men who loved other men. Or women who loved other women. Or for just being in the same room as men who loved other men.
The media and the news have gone off on a wild tangent about this being a terrorist act, simply because that madman (I refuse to type his name) called 911 midway and offhandedly said he was with ISIS. But this was no terrorist attack – he was simply shooting people he hated, people who were going about their own lives and trying to carve a little joy out for themselves, joy that had had absolutely no impact on him and wouldn’t have interfered with his own life in any way.
He hated them because they loved, and he killed them.
And every time I tried to think of how to write about that, nothing I thought to say seemed to matter a damn bit. So I stopped.
And then a few days later, prompted by the attacks, one of Connecticut’s senators started a filibuster demanding a vote to regulate guns.
I first caught news of it at work – I have a BBC news app on my iPad, and my coworkers and I usually stop our work and huddle around it when we hear its distinctive musical breaking-news alert; my co-worker N once teased that “whenever I hear that, it’s usually because something bad happened.” The filibuster, though, we thought was good – hopeful that maybe something would finally bring the steamrolling of guns over this country to a halt.
I watched the live feed of the filibuster off and on through the day, into the night – thinking of something to say about guns. Thinking of how the one and only time I ever saw anyone in my family hold a real weapon, it was when my father borrowed my grandfather’s little hand pistol to shoot a huge snapping turtle in the pond where my brother and I sometimes swam. I was about nine, and had no idea Grandpa owned it or that Dad knew how to shoot it. Dad made us kids stand about ten feet away and we all huddled, jittery, as Dad took aim into the water and fired once, then twice. I jumped both times even though I knew it was coming. I don’t remember going back in the water that day.
I also thought about the stage combat class I took in college – how every other class was hands-on, and all of us gleefully dove in and learned how to do fake punches and brandished fencing foils and flung each other through scores of stunt wrestling moves, but the one class that dealt with gun safety was uncharacteristically hands-off. The instructor asked us all to simply come in and sit down, and then proceeded to disassemble a starter’s pistol he had in front of us – telling us exactly what each and every part did and how it worked. And then he put it back together again, telling us exactly what each and every part could do if it went wrong. He loaded a single cap into the gun, pointed it at the ceiling and fired – explaining what the entire ballistics process was as he did – and then spent the rest of the class running down a long list of actors who had been injured or killed from guns, even prop guns, and explaining exactly what had killed them and what they should have watched for and what they did wrong. To this day, I have absolutely no problem holding any other weapon – I’ll probably even quote Inigo Montoya if you give me a rapier – but I will only touch a gun under extreme duress, and most likely will try to find a way to not have to.
I don’t dislike people who do like guns, mind you. Remember, my grandfather owned a gun, and my father knew how to use it. I know at least one or two other friends who’ve tried target shooting and hunting. But I also know that they also know how dangerous they are, and they’ve simply chosen to use caution around guns – while I’ve just chosen to abstain from the whole thing, thanks. I also know that they know it makes much more sense to pick the safest possible gun for the job, rather than trying to collect a military-grade weapon just for the sake of having it. And they agree with me that having some system in place to ensure that people buying a gun aren’t criminally dangerous is also an important thing we should be doing to protect ourselves.
I thought of all this while the filibuster was going on, and was getting ready to write something the next day – but then the Senate brought up four gun bills in a row, and voted them all down just as quickly, and I was too disenheartened.
And then a few days later, Representative John Lewis held a sit-in in the House on the same issue – but even then, after fifteen hours, all that happened was that Speaker Paul Ryan adjourned, and nothing happened. And I was even more disenheartened.
And then this morning that chime rang on my iPad again, and this time it was telling me that the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union.
In and of itself that shouldn’t seem to matter to someone in the United States. The Dow plunged at first, but then righted itself midway through the day; the talking-heads were all talking about how this was a non-binding referendum, and Parliament still had to vote on it and might say no; and it was England so who cared anyway.
But mixed in with that I heard other accounts, from non-White Britons who were already starting to hear people shouting at them to “go home”. I was hearing from people who’d voted to leave defending themselves by talking about how “immigrants” were taking their jobs. I was hearing about people in their 20’s who were on the dole and had been getting ready to retrain for a different career in Germany or France, but now wouldn’t be able to. I did perk up mid-day, while reading the truly baroque insults that various Scots had been hurling at Donald Trump for an ill-advised tweet, but then I read yet another account of a Welsh woman in a hijab being told to “go back home” and whatever little good mood I had shrivled.
I came home, not wanting to talk, not wanting to write, not wanting to think. Websurf, dinner, read, bed. That was going to be it. A puppeteer I know posted a quirky question on Facebook which caught my eye – “What do you all need to hear today?” – and I read some of the responses; some serious, but some silly (he responded to someone’s request for “Hamilton” by posting a link to an audiobook of the Federalist Papers). I left my own lighthearted answer – three tongue-in-cheek music requests, things I thought would either be difficult to find or fantasy pairings I didn’t think existed; a rare Tom Waits bootleg, a remix of a specific Peter Gabriel song, and – “a recording of The Waterboys jamming with Glen Hansard on ‘Fisherman’s Blues’.” I chuckled and made dinner.
Less than an hour later, something made me check Facebook again. My friend had responded to my comment, saying: “you mean this?”
And he also had posted this video.
I stared. I watched it. I typed a babbly all-caps response that I HAD TOTALLY MADE THAT UP HOW DID YOU FIND THIS AND WHY DID YOU NOT TELL ME YOU WERE A WIZARD. I watched it again. And again. And again.
And by the third or fourth viewing the song was working its usual magic and I was singing along, the heart back in me and wanting to write something.
The world can seem bleak sometimes. The Things Going Wrong can pile on you unrelentingly, and you feel like your only options are to swing from anger at the injustice and a feeling you should be fighting, to sadness that there are so many for whom your work will be coming too late, to helplessness because the problems are all so big and the struggle so long…
And that is the time you need to stop and take a step back and do what you can to find joy. Slip into a coffeehouse for a croissant. Visit the bodega where they have a friendly cat. Let a neighbor’s dog lick your face. Point a rainbow out to your roommate. Trade silly jokes with your co-workers. Discover a friend might be supernaturally able to manifest Youtube clips. Dance in a club with friends, or dance in your apartment by yourself, singing along to the Waterboys or whoever gets you dancing, and stay there and dance as long as you need to until you’ve remembered what the fight is for, and can get back up and fight again.
“I know I will be loosened from the bonds that hold me fast,The chains all around me will fall away at last…” – Mike Scott, Fisherman’s Blues