Tag Archives: family

Re-thinking thoughts on guns

Before I arrived in Texas, guns were bad. Those who kept guns in their home were backward, uninformed and quite possibly insecure. Those who advocated for the legalization of guns politically were dangerous, cunning and manipulative. They were obstacles in the way of law and order, not campaigners in support of it and wherever possible, it was the rest of society’s quasi-moral ‘duty’ to oppose them. We should disdain the lobbyists who blocked the intervention of proper controls and condemn state governors who failed to use their position to denounce their use. It was popular and it felt fashionable. Just as fashionable as denouncing Nigel Farage as a simple sideline looney, or hating on Katie Hopkins for moaning on GMTV. Britain doesn’t have a gun problem. We don’t border countries with a gun problem and airport security means that smuggling firearms is rarely an issue. We trust that our police will be at the end of the line when we call 999 and we believe that they’ll be powerful enough to support us, so why would we have guns, and why would we ever hope to comprehend the arguments of those who believe in them? They’re not relevant to our society, so we can get away with few skirmishes (and quite possibly some accolade) for hating on them and those that uphold them.

It was only once I got to Texas that I began to realize the extent of my naivety and oversimplification of the issue.

Don’t get me wrong- it’s not that a trip to the gun range has meant I systematically support guns. In my mind they still cause more harm than they do good. In a society where the monetary cost of a gun is virtually the only thing controlling who owns one, they’re far too easy to get hold of and far too difficult to monitor. Instead of warding off the culture of fear and self-sufficiency so prevalent in the South, they add to it- often leading ‘normal’ people into crime almost by accident, simply due to the lack of effort it takes to take a shot. Ideologically, I’m still opposed to guns. I wouldn’t dare to buy a gun. I wouldn’t vote in favor of them and I certainly wouldn’t feel any safer keeping one at home. But when you begin to understand things they’re always less clear than you first thought. Guns aren’t a black and white issue. There’s too much tied up in the mix.

I wasn’t expecting shooting at a gun range to be my new favorite activity, nor an opportunity for deep psycho-political analysis. It’s a popular weekend activity here. Most people own their own guns although rarely get an opportunity to use them. The Lone Star Gun Range offers gun hire, the purchase of ammunition and firearm classes to top up your skills. I was there largely for the novelty of holding a gun.

I was a medium sized establishment. There were a choice of four ranges to shoot from; a shotgun range, a children’s range, pistol range and rifle range. In theory the targets were different distances away, although actually they all seemed to be a bit interchangeable. Along a dusty track an ‘office’ held the guns. Bulky men with bit beards and tattoos hovered between cabinets and wall mounts, keys clanging in jean pockets as they waited patiently for the weapon to selected. Its a big moment of course (especially for the newbie), whether to fashion yourself on a Lara Croft type quick snap boom, or more of a forest hunter with the long tunnel at the end and bigger bullets. They came in black, brown, gold, grey, muddy green or Texan flag, and knowing nothing about guns I was even strangely excited to see something that resembled George Bush’s own from his mighty tour to Afghanistan in 2006. Maybe I’ll steer away from that one. Stick to Lara Croft.

I got outside and started setting up the target. It was a wooden frame, a bit like an easel that you stapled a sheet of paper with the outline of a human on. Specific areas were pointed out – the head, the heart, the lungs, the hands and feet. Hoping for balloons or colored blobs, I asked if I could use a children’s target. A guy pointed to a pile of reduced-sized silhouettes. I took a moment to think. I was choosing between shooting a bright pink paper adult or a bright pink paper child. I turned to look at the shooters. They all looked fairly normal; a day off with the family or an afternoon chilling with friends and pop tarts. No doubt they shopped at Walmart and paid their taxes. No signs of criminal records or recent prison escapees. Get on with it Holly, you’re over thinking. I went for the adult pink human. Thank God the bullet predictably spun off into the white paper behind.

Lara Croft I wasn’t, but shooting guns is exhilarating. The charging of the bullet and steps as you take aim, the pounding bang and drifts of smoke that liken you to a true woman of the Wild West all add to the strange notion of power that you come to thrive on. Its easy to forget that an onlooker from the sidelines would find it difficult to understand the fun, spending money to stand in the sweltering heat and dust loading up rounds and mutilating a static paper sheet.

I took a break to get water. A 30 something year old couple and their child were standing nearby. Hearing my non-native accent (very rare in much of rural Texas), we started talking. We went through the motions of them loving the english accent and asking what I thought of the Queen, I asked them how often they went shooting. They proudly informed me they were Lone Star members, meaning for $100 a year each they have free access to any Lone Star gun range. I tried to look like I found that impressive and  asked if they usually bring their son. The dad confirmed that 8 year old Cody had apparently been shooting since he could walk, and was well versed in the safety implications. His aim was so good, he had even won competitions in the under 10s category.

I felt myself slipping into that all too common terrain of totally disbelieving what I was hearing, but also desperately trying to comprehend it. These were friendly people. They weren’t trying to kill anyone or out to start a gun war. They weren’t training up their child in any suspicious Texan militias, nor did they have tattoos giving away allegiance to a notorious gang of outlaws. I was highly aware that to them, the idea of me opposing the use of a gun on your own personal property probably seemed just as strange as I found their enthusiasm for it. If my time in Texas has taught me anything, it’s to not make it obvious that you think a person’s crazy too soon. If you don’t hear them out, they’ll probably always seem crazy. If you go along with it for a bit sounding vaguely empathetic in your questioning, you’ve at least got a chance. These are the moments you’ve got to walk the line without giving yourself away.

As far as I understand, they explained guns in terms of two necessary functions in society. First and foremost is the social aspect; the ownership of guns forms a central part of their culture, and family gatherings are rarely complete without a hunt. Unlike in Europe, few rural Texans don’t own vast swathes of land, and with the ownership of land comes the ‘ownership’ of any creatures that inhabit it. Instead of driving to the Walmart or HEB 30 minutes down the highway, they can hunt deer, rabbits or boars to supply the barbecue, equally central to any get together. With so much land, so many animals, so few people and such a deeply ingrained sense of property rights, even for the most ardent opponent it’s not difficult to recognize that the social, geographical and economic structures that make up Texan society orientate it towards a culture of hunting.

But more important than that is the idea of protection. If us Brits had any vain hope that our Guardian columnists and Green Party campaigners could single-handedly take on the gun-crime culture of the American South, we can stop now. It’s not going to happen.

Texas is a rural place. Almost two-thirds of its landmass have less than ten residents per square mile, far from Sheriff’s offices, Town Halls, or neighbours. Even if they did live within reach of a Sheriff’s office, (effectively a police station), it may be so small an ill-funded that it would of little additional benefit in case of a home burglary. Either the homeowner uses a gun to ward off the intruder then and there, or they wait up to half an hour for the police to arrive and do the same. Furthermore, as isolated and obtuse as we may portray the state in Europe, Texans are highly aware of the issue of police brutality in their own nation. Perhaps it comes under a respect for human rights. More probably it’s a manifestation of the general skepticism of authority and idea of self-sufficiency, but images of the incompetence of the police are widespread, and who can trust someone that does’t have a vested interest in protecting you and your family? They’re just doing their job. If the criminal runs off into the plains, its another sheriff’s county office that’ll deal with them. For you, your livestock, homestead or children have been under threat and who knows if they’ll return. Under Texan law (as well as many other US states), if you kill someone in the act of defending your own property, i.e. an intruder, it is considered an act of self defense. The intruder, if not dead, is accountable to the full force of the law. If a group comes in together and one is killed, the fellow intruders can be found guilty of the murder of their friend and sentenced to life imprisonment, or in some cases execution; if they hadn’t collectively trespassed on the property, their friend wouldn’t have died. The factors of geography and the law therefore inherently favor the gun owner and encourage them to take security into their own hands.

But it doesn’t stop there. Gun ownership is as much a political as well as practical issue. An estimated 1 in 26 people in Texas are illegal immigrants, and fear of the Mexican border is very real. If people can get in undocumented, guns can too, and banning them among law-abiding Christian Americans would only leave the Texan population at the mercy of genuine criminals and criminal gangs of Central America. If guns therefore can’t be eliminated from Texas, at least they can be distributed to those who will use them for their own defense, as well as those who will use them for aggression.

And then it comes to the children. A central part of any parent’s responsibility is in ensuring your child feels safe and capable on their own. And I could totally empathize with this – the most valuable thing you can give your offspring is surely the confidence to feel they don’t have to be reliant on others. To make their own choices, believe in themselves and act on their own accord. And this holds very true in Texan culture. The parents I met at Lockhart weren’t proud of their son because he shot the pink human’s heart out of the paper it lay on; they were proud because they had succeeded as parents. They had prepared him for the world as a capable individual who didn’t have to be scared of Mexicans, or criminals, or put up with the police. He could hold his own family gatherings and source meat from his own land. He was aware of the dangers involved and how to be safe, and really, to them it would only be irresponsible not to introduce him to the culture of weaponry so essential to his heritage and surroundings.

The congressional debates surrounding gun legality are always complex and often contrived. They encompass and touch upon so much – party politics, money, political and economic goals and the interests of influential and regularly out of touch individuals. They’re messy debates that one wishes were unnecessary and we are well within our legitimacy to dismiss them as absurd. On a person to person level, however, the prevalence of guns is more difficult to refute. The arguments are too deep, thought-out and frankly relevant to downplay the way we’re used to – unsuccessfully. As I say, I’m certainly no gun supporter, but my first and last experience as a patron of the Lone Star range has undoubtedly left a mark. If our trans-atlantic struggle against guns laws are to get anywhere, we don’t have a hope or a right to focus our condemnation on the small town Americans that buy into the industry. For them, owning a gun is being responsible. It’s being patriotic, a provider and an individual. It’s looking after your family and securing your own interests- just as we seek to do in Britain and anywhere else in the world. The task is much greater than simply typecasting, condemning and blaming. It’s not just an industry to bring down; its the political, social and economic infrastructure of the state itself, and that’s no easy battle to fight and not one that should be jumped upon naively.

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What 20 years have taught me

  1. Determination requires confidence.
  2. Be open and people will be open with you.
  3. Sometimes you can learn the most from the people you disagree with.
  4. Talk.
  5. Know when to think and know when you need spontaneity.
  6. Life is a balancing act between making sure you enjoy the future and making sure you enjoy today. Find the point at which they’re not mutually exclusive.
  7. Everyone is a bank of understanding to be made use of.
  8. Exercise is the short term cure of everything.
  9. Put those who would put you before all else, before all else. *All the baes together*
  10. It’s true that you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do.
  11. Allow people to amaze you.
  12. Keep hold of people. You can’t tell what’s meant to be.
  13. Remember those you helped you. They haven’t forgotten.
  14. Everyone is scared of something and everyone has been through a love story.
  15. Dramas are only dramas for the moment, and there’ll be time in the future to laugh about them. Make sure you do.
  16. Don’t categorize yourself. Stereotypes don’t exist.
  17. Respect what others believe in – especially when you don’t understand why they believe it.
  18. Find someone who is in love with their own life and it will be impossible not to be in love with yours.
  19. Know those you value, and treat them as if you might never see them again.
  20. Believe in fate. Everything happens for a reason.

I’m writing to say I’m sorry

I came across this poem on instagram by Marisa Crane. I was ashamed by how much it struck me, but it’s beautiful and I wanted to share.

I’m writing to say I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for putting you in parentheses,

for treating you like an afterthought,

postscript at the end of a letter

but this, this is your letter,

too late, too pathetic, 

not the one that should have been about you.

you deserved a novel, not the corner of a page turned down

in case I ever wanted to pick up

where I had left off,

I should have taken the time

to read your footnotes,

to understand the context of your smile,

of your tears, of the nightmares

that plagued you.

I hope that wherever you are,

you are doing well.

I’m sure that you are, having been lifted of the heavy,

apathetic love

that once ailed me.

I’m so truly sorry to those this is about for me. I hope one day to tell you in person. Until then, I hope you will somehow know it and understand.

apologize

A letter to the first person to tell me they loved me

So you said good luck and goodbye. You said maybe we should have seen other before I went. I said maybe. But we didnt, and I suppose if it mattered then we would have.

And then I didn’t know what else to say, so I said thank you and bye. And we simultaneously hung up.

I think we think we’ve spoken twice in the past year. The first time, at a mutual friend’s birthday party you hardly knew anyone. You stuck to me like glue, telling me about your great life at your fancy university with fancy friends and big ambitions. Your eyes were on the future and we weren’t going to discuss the past. I said I was happy for you and you said I should come visit, for a weekend perhaps. If I could take the time off work. Sure.

As it happened, a few months later I was passing nearby. I called and you came out to meet me; the first time I had been alone with you since the last time. And finally, I felt pretty hollow towards you. The knot of emotion that had kept me tied up for last five years had been released. Or at least relaxed. There was no excitement or nervousness, nor sense of anger or betrayal. I was blank and we had both at least partially found someone new to keep us going to the gym and occupied at weekends. I just wanted to understand what had happened and how I had got so caught up. But in your predictable dismissive style you relented once again about how ‘busy’ life was and trailed me through the supermarket listening to your deliberations over the superior washing powder and what to buy for dinner. When I realised you were buying for one, I got the hint and left you in peace.

So its fine if we never really connect again. I accept that recognition of what happened – that chunk of our lives that proved so formative for us both has been conveniently swept away (just as we conveniently swept away so much else) and I won’t ask anything more from you. Each time you pop up on snapchat looking tanned in the south of France or in dinner jackets at private parties I realise how far our lives have diverged and the full extent of our dissimilarities. I still remember your obsession with sunbathing and fear of appearing pasty in photos. And can smell your tower of hair gel and doses of Lynx. I suppose they now resemble a memory, not an emotion. (And thank God for that.) But even if I say nothing else to you again, I want you to know the effect you had on me and the distorted perception of ‘love’ that we somehow came to adopt.

We met fresh out of primary school. You were short and I was quiet. I don’t remember much more than that. As the years slipped by we shared classes and friends and interests, and probably stepped up the flirtation as we experimented in our own worlds of the early teens with little concept of the consequences. I had been suspicious of ‘romantic’ relationships from the start – my mum and sister had both been let down in some way through those they had loved and I had developed my own armour of never trusting a boy too deeply. Have fun, enjoy their company, but be wary of emotional attachment. In my eyes, it could only ever be dangerous.

I suppose you gave off the same attitude – or it seemed to suit you at least. The older you got the more ‘macho’ you became, with numerous ‘girlfriends’, jokes and well timed one-liners. You were clever and charming and flippant, and we were trying to understand ourselves. Looking back on it now, I had an unusually liberal upbringing and was free to experiment, discover and navigate for myself – and with us, nothing was a big deal. So when I found myself at home with you one night and, having just turned fifteen candidly stepped into my first sexual ‘encounter’ I thought little of the blood that soaked the sheets or the unusual pain I was feeling. You seemed to be fine, and the next morning we put on the washing machine and watched The Inbetweeners.

We drifted through another year of friendship. You would phone me in the holidays and I would walk around London streets in the dark. You would open my eyes to science, TV programmes and good music. Through you, I would escape for a bit into what seemed like a bigger, greater world and I really did value it. I’m sorry I didn’t show you at the time how much I appreciated you.

And I can understand how you felt betrayed. Just as I mock your ‘busy’ life now, as we got into sixth form I took on new courses, responsibilities and interests, and so did you. The circle of friends that had meshed us seemed to dissipate and I saw you less and less. Due to my timetable I ended up spending entire days with one of your best friends. But when I invited him and not you to the dinner you didn’t need to feel jealous – we had a different relationship and he had in no way ‘replaced’ you. (Whatever that position that you held was…) Anyway, you had other girls to chase buy that time, and were more than occupied doing so.

But when I next saw you at a house party a few months later and we crept out and got lost once again along winding London roads, reminiscing private jokes and past events and you made me laugh like no one else I couldn’t help but feel the sense of closeness and energy I had missed. Work and deadlines and home felt so far away. We once again seemed important.

And perhaps I should have seen what was coming. Perhaps we needed some confirmation of where we were. I realised I had grown a bit distant in the last few months, but we were still friends, I assumed? We were getting on with life. After all, it was you who had reminded me- for whatever had come before, we were just learning, right?

But from laughing and joking and a clumsy kiss under the streetlights it seemed within a second I was standing against the backdoor of a garage with my clothes discarded among the grass and gravel and I couldn’t move. We weren’t fifteen anymore. This wasn’t testing the water, or taking a punch in the dark. By that time you understand good experiences and bad experiences and roughly know what to expect from sex. I had thought you were a bit drunk. Well you obviously weren’t. In that moment I forgot where I was and who this person was I was with. I forgot the conversations we had had over the years and secrets we had shared. The experiences we had gone through and all those words meant nothing. I wasn’t this kind of girl. This wasn’t meant to happen to me, and I needed to get out.

I had lost my tights but I found my dress at least. And one shoe. You passed me the other without speaking. I charged out from the alley of garage doors back onto the street with no idea of where to go. Out onto the main road, pacing past kebab shops and 24 hour convenience stores- their vendors clearly perturbed by my shaggy appearance. I felt humiliated and embarrassed and for once, wanted to go home.  I heard you running after me, shouting. You grabbed hold of my arm and I pushed you away. I didn’t want anyone to touch me. I wanted to feel fierce and strong, although I probably looked much the opposite. You stood back, and said you knew the way. We walked in silence up to the house. I slipped past the throngs of drunken friends and into the shower and you slid upstairs and went to sleep. I had left by the time you woke up.

We went through another few months of not speaking. Not deliberately, I suppose. We just didn’t come into contact and I didn’t miss you. We were growing up once again, each discovering new people and I assumed that chapter of our lives and the ‘mistakes’ contained in it had closed. So when we realised that in the final year our school duties would bring about a forced closeness, it came as a shock. You apologised for scaring me off and I apologised for over-reacting and not much else was said. I’m still not sure if either of those two things really depict the situation but that was the easiest thing to say at the time and it was clear we needed to get over any past issues. This was a ‘professional’ relationship we were pretending to forge, although I think it was just as clear to you as to me that wouldn’t be the case.

As my work loads piled up, it was you who could relax me in the way I had relied on in the past. Perhaps it was the familiarity when so much of life had changed. Now, everything seemed exciting. Compared to the evening phone calls cut off by bad signal or hiding out in the churchyard at the bottom of my road suddenly we were dining on food we couldn’t pronounce and causing havoc on British airways. We would get crazily drunk from dessert wine (my tolerance level always being around a fifth of yours), then prowl about the City in the early hours forging ten-minute friendships with the homeless and road maintenance workers. You would blast out Duke Dumont on the train and we would take over the carriage (being the only ones on it), acting like we were thirteen again and everything meant nothing. And it was all our secret. The next day we’d both go back to lessons and duties and sports matches and homework and music practise and pretend we could take on the mantel of being quasi- adults. It scared me how quickly I always seemed to get used to you. And now it was you who was telling me that it was ok – don’t worry, nothing was serious. It was all on the surface, just having fun and avoiding the skirmishes and deep feelings that we presumed had been the problem in the past.

This was around the same time that another girl fell madly for you and you tagged her along until she could no longer accept that you would never be her boyfriend. You complained of her getting ‘too attached’. I hope you now realise that that’s what normal people do – they get attached, and it was us who deluded ourselves to the assumption that attachment was a bad thing. At least she recognised the need to know where she stood. And I was beginning to find someone who I unusually trusted and I suppose by accident he made me realise the gravity of the situation I had got myself in. Bit by bit the fallacy of the past years was inadvertently being knocked away and the remnants came crashing down. And regardless of that, somehow he was important. I found myself unable to backtrack on him in the way I had with everyone else up to then. Maybe I missed a chance, but we were friends and I liked that. More to the point because of you the idea of committing to anything felt so far away. He had had a succession of what seemed like serious girlfriends whom I doubted I could ever live up to. He was intense and serious and made me wary of all my weaknesses, but at the same time someone I specifically didn’t want to just dip into and forget about. Nothing about him was on the surface – completely your opposite. Even so, I was scared of slipping into the same again. My protective shields were up and it took me too long to realise that I probably wouldn’t have needed them. Before I knew it he had found someone else, and you and I had neatly lapsed back into our comfortable, ridiculous limbo.

Through her, you could have had the option to grow up. You can complain and bitch but she could have helped you. At the time, she genuinely loved and wanted to understand you. And for me, although it came as a shock suddenly I was finally willing to at least try to grow up. By then, we both needed it so badly. This wasn’t fun and carefree anymore; it was unhealthy and frustrating. I suppose I can really only be annoyed at myself for allowing you to get in the way again. Maybe it was my need for reassurance, or to stay in my quasi-comfort zone? Well, I was sick of it by then; I still don’t really understand.

This will be the third year since we left that tunnel. I’ve learnt that that the drama and insecurity that came with it isn’t normal. I don’t know if you’re still deluding yourself in your void between friendship and relationship. Or which of the girls on your facebook page have bowed down to your experience and  and been left assuming they were special. Maybe they’re older and wiser than I was. But for them- they shouldn’t be led to think that’s what friendship with you amounts to.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not blaming you, or me, or the situation we were in – I think we both realise it was all of those combined. And really, after all this I don’t resent the highs and lows. There were just as many good memories and bad and those are to be battled through and learnt from. I just resent how drawn out it all was. The time I wasted and the imprint you left on me. It seems like the more I took in the idea that everything meant nothing, the more this ‘nothing’ seemed to get in the way of everything. That fantasy may have been ok when things started out, but there were wider consequences by the end.

And after so long in the tunnel, without the structures that had surrounded us I was shocked by how unimportant you suddenly became. Yes, I was in the dark a bit. And it certainly took me a while to relax into my baby steps – but I enjoyed doing so, and I’ve once again learnt a lot in the years since. Things don’t have to be so complicated and covert. It’s ok to trust and believe in and even rely on people, and to expect the same in return. Of course, there a mistakes still to be made but we don’t need to worry about making them. I hope for you, you’ve been able to realise the same thing. Speaking to you on that last night I think we both felt equally grateful that that was it.