Posted by: facetothewind | January 13, 2011

Thoughts from the fishbowl

Tucson these days seems on fire. You’ve all seen the press on what happened last weekend. Gabrielle Gifford’s attempted assassination struck close to home as I reside one degree removed from her: a friend of mine is her neighbor and in fact sold her her home. Each day I watch the TV news and find myself unable to tell if we’re watching local news or national news. I switch on the box and see the faces of the community I know and sort of love emblazoned on the screen…the guy who sang the national anthem last night on the memorial sang as a soloist with my choir, the barrister interviewed on NBC serves me my berry cobbler at Epic Cafe. My neighbor’s daughter’s friend was going to be married to Gabby’s aide Gabe. I sang in the church where the little girl Christina was a member. It’s all close to home, though no direct hit to my life. This time.

Since the shootings, the name Tucson has become synonymous with terror. Like Oklahoma City. Like Laramie. Like Columbine. Tucson will never shake itself free of this association. And so now we in Tucson stand naked while the whole nation picks on us as a town of rednecks, hack politicians, vitriolic gun toters and bible thumpers. And if you’re watching the governor with her fright wig hairdo looking like she spent too much time reading the bible by the pool without sunscreen…yeah you’ve perceived correctly. We appear to be that. But we aren’t that, or not JUST that.

Tucson is not the rest of Arizona like Laramie is not the rest of Wyoming. Like you are not the rest of the nation. Sure there are regions of ideology. You wouldn’t catch me living in Alabama or Utah. But I know that if I did have that misfortune, I’d find something lovable about each place…like there’s something lovable about each person. Even me. Even you. Even Jarred Loughner. We are after all, living in a closed-system and we’re just going to have to make it work.

For those of you who have known me since I left the liberal climes of California a decade ago for the prickly southwest, you know that I myself have struggled immensely with Tucson. Why did you move THERE? Didn’t you see Borat where all the folks in the bar sang Throw the Jew Down the Well? Yeah, so why DID I move here? And more importantly why haven’t I left? And then most recently I’ve had to ask myself is it worth staying for? I watch the news to see the obese people waddling to the stadium for the memorial. I see the misspelled notes of love left at the altar in front of the hospital. I know, their hearts are in the right place. Still, I hear the sound bites of broken English…from native English speakers…and I wonder what the HELL am I doing here?

The answer is Where else would I go? There is no escaping America’s mediocrity, violence, hack politicians and religious nutbags. California? Are you kidding me? Portland? Someone just tried to blow up Pioneer Square. Austin? An island in the middle of nutbags with money where gay people can’t get married but they can get divorced there. OK, maybe Vermont. But Vermont is VERMONT! Do I even know the capitol without looking it up?

I’d like to believe that some good will come of all this negative attention but I’m not optimistic. Maybe some progressive, peace-minded folks will see this as a call for intervention. “Honey, let’s pile into the Prius and move to Tucson because they need us right now.” Right. More likely this sends the call out to other like minded nutjobs around the nation to come to Arizona to be among like thinkers. Let’s hope not. I do know that gun sales have spiked since the shootings and Gabby and the Judge were opposed to gun control. In my dreamworld Gabby will come out of the hospital fired up and ready to pass new gun laws. Dream on. She, like everyone else, will just arm herself more and become further removed from her constituents.

But I do think some of the deeper questions about mental illness and impassioned violence are being asked. Again. Didn’t we do that after Virginia Tech and whatever the last slaying of the month was? Are we evolving? Are we changing? Look, humanity is one big fat stinking experiment and although at times it seems like we’re failing miserably, remember it’s all a big learning process and no one gets out alive anyway. So have we failed? I don’t think so. But could we change for the better? Of course. Will we? Don’t ask me, I’m a cynic. What have YOU done to make a difference? Have you shared your toys? Have you been kind and generous to those who are angry and hungry? Do you know your neighbors? Do you live in fear obsessed with the preservation of what you’ve already attained? Ask those questions and you go to the head of the class. But you still don’t get out alive and someone may still blow your brains out at the Safeway.


Well here’s what I intend to do: I intend to stay here and stay calm enjoying the sunshine and stark beauty of the desert. You’ll find me volunteering with my neighborhood association, shopping at the farmer’s market on Sunday, stealing grapefruit from parking lots, curing my olives, cycling to choir on Tuesday nights. You’ll find me in the garden waiting for the penstemons to bloom (any day now!), playing the piano in the afternoon and sitting by the pool at sunset. There I’ll be nursing a beer and my broken heart. Nothing has changed in my world.

“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast.”
— Viktor Frankl



  1. While submerged in the process of applying for graduate school while recovering from a kitchen injury, I missed this recent tragedy on the news. My doctor was consoling me, “you have a 99% chance of complete recovery, really, not like the 110% chance they are giving Gifford!”
    “Who’s Gifford?” I said innocently.
    He was stunned.
    I was too. Nobody around me mentioned it for days. We don’t have TV at home force feeding us consumer fears & desires anymore. I usually read the news aggregate on my phone while waiting for whatever, but this time I hadn’t. I asked people around me had they heard about it?
    “Yeah, right after it happened, my e-mail flashes all the news headlines at me.”
    We have serious cases of mental obesity threatening our humanity. We are numb to everything. Unless it happens in your backyard or to the people you know.

    I’m sorry that this has happened in your sphere of people & geography. Thank you for taking the time to write about it. Your so smart & articulate. Keep living. Watch documentaries, f*** TV.

    For my part, I’m taking my energy to education where I hope to contribute to making a smarter, more sensitive society. And I will offer a contrary piece of advice. When you are in the kitchen: Let it fall.

  2. Hello David. I, for one, on many levels have lived a life dangerously interwoven with tragedy and managed to survive, still optimistic at the core but wiser. I realize now that each day is a recipe of lessons and it pays to be attentive. The old phrase, “What does not kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply to more and more of us these days when we least expect it.

    In late December, I was contemplating attending a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony here in downtown Portland, just 8 blocks from home, that could have resulted in the last holiday of my life. Thousands were on the public square that evening. The results would have been unimaginable. What if?

    I’ve thought about it a lot recently, and perhaps it’s my inner house and not my exterior house which draws more and more of my attention this new year. If I die tomorrow, or today for that matter, so be it. Sorry for the pollyanna, but I try to be the best person I can be on a daily basis. I hope, if there is a time of judgment someday, I am evaluated on the collection of small actions where I have tried to make the world a better place, to be a more compassionate person, to share what little I have with those who need it more, and contribute more than I consume – rather than the great accomplishment of being a prize-winning author or successful entrepreneur, hard as I may try. I would rather have someone say, “Tusk was my good friend” then just about any accolade. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It isn’t.

    Tell me, where and what is safety in this age of extremism? I just spent two weeks in Boulder where 169 people lost their extremely private canyon homes to fire this past year. Many of them told me they felt so far removed from danger that the fire was inconceivable and few had adequate fire insurance. Here in Portland we are sitting on the most deadly earthquake fault in America overdue for destruction yet few will even discuss it. Seconds tick, where is safe? Who can tell?

    Perhaps the lesson is not where we locate, but where we choose to dwell within. I like my inner residence. It’s not grand, but it’s comfortable. It’s warm and kind and welcoming. I’ve learned to keep my tragic recipe cards together in a file on the counter. My heart reclines on the sofa by the fire. Come what may. I think I’m ready.

    I can’t change the gun lobby in America but I can personally choose to not let guns in my personal life. I can’t change the world economy, but I can choose not to consume irrationally. I can’t feed the world but I can feed another person. And so it goes. I don’t see many other answers. My physical locale is the icing on the cake.

    Healing thoughts to you and the people of Tucson. It is all part of the grand plan. xo tusk

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