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Archive for the tag “gun control”

Reinvention II

IMG_1047It’s only been two weeks.

And as I write, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have finished their first full day of classes since February 14, 2018: a Valentine’s Day that may have started sweetly, for some, but ended, for all, in horror.

And now, like it or not, they are engaging in that classic American project: reinvention.

Two years ago, I wrote a Restless Nest post about reinvention that now reads like a runic record of ancient times. It’s about reinvention as practiced by people my age; the kind that is motivated by benign milestones like career changes, downsizing, upsizing, retirement. It was written in that naïve era when we all assumed Hillary Clinton would be our next president; when we never would have dreamed that political vigilance would soon require an unprecedented amount of our time and attention.

Fourteen students and three adults from Marjory Stoneman Douglas will never have those kinds of opportunities for reinvention. Or political vigilance.

But their surviving classmates are wasting no time.

Two weeks ago, they were kids. Now, they are mourners and activists. And they are unafraid to say what needs to be said about gun violence and the complicity of the National Rifle Association and all the politicians the NRA grooms as its well-paid pawns. They are unafraid to reinvent themselves and their lives in honor of the friends they lost.

And look at the effect they’re having: in statehouses, in Washington, D.C., in the offices of corporate CEOs, including, as of this morning, Edward Stack, the chief executive of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Do not underestimate the power of a group of young people united by grief and anger and ready for reinvention.

Their school’s namesake would have approved. By the time Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a teen, her parents were divorced and her mother was in a mental institution. At Wellesley College, she excelled in elocution and joined the Suffrage Club. Months after she graduated in 1912, her mother died of breast cancer. By the time she was 25, Douglas had survived a disastrous first marriage and started her career in journalism at the Miami Herald. Later in her life, she championed the cause of saving the Florida Everglades. Douglas modeled creative reinvention through every decade of her life. She lived to be 108.

I have no doubt that many of the young Parkland activists will live lives as equally fruitful, long and full of reinvention as the life of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

In the immediate future, may their reinvention ripple effect just keep flowing: beyond Ed Stack to other CEOs; beyond Tallahassee to every statehouse; beyond their showdown with Senator Marco Rubio to a world where lawmakers of both parties can and will say “No, thanks,” to the NRA and its money.

Reinvention can be beautiful to behold.

Seattle readers: I’ll be teaching Intro to Memoir Writing at Seattle Central College beginning April 9. Six Monday evenings. Registration is open now. 








th          You know how it is. You don’t want to feel numb. You know that numbness is just pain postponed. Novocained. You know that, in order to get through this, you’ve got to feel.

And so you go about your day. You get in the car. You turn on the radio. Some of the speakers are inspiring, Donald Trump is horrible, but none of them are quite breaking through your numbed skin.

It’s the victims and those who grieve them, of course, who finally do break through. It’s the young man talking about frantically texting his 20-year-old best friend. It’s the front-page grid of faces: so many beautiful young people, smiling, being silly, being their young selves. It’s the story that writer Dan Savage told on the radio, choking up as he told it, of Brenda Marquez McCool, a single mother of 11 and cancer survivor, who died because she stood between the Orlando killer and her son Isaiah. At 2 in the morning at a gay nightclub, she saved the life of her son: as Savage pointed out, a previous generation would have found it stunning that she was even there, with her gay son, his adult life just beginning and hers beginning again after cancer. Or so they had hoped.

And then it was the two Sandy Hook parents on the radio, a mom and a dad, each of whom lost a child in the Newtown, CT school massacre on December 14, 2012. For more than three years, Nicole Hockley, who lost her son Dylan, and Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel, have been on the radio, on the stump, online, in the papers and on TV, trying to get assault weapons banned.

“Gun violence is preventable,” Hockley and Barden both said, several times in several different ways. Gun violence is preventable, I repeated to myself as I went for a tearful walk. It’s not cancer. It’s not Alzheimer’s disease, which took my mom, too young. We can’t ban plaques and tangles from our brains. We can’t bar cancerous cells from invading our bodies. But we can ban assault weapons. Here’s the Sandy Hook Promise website. Give what you can to help them. Send an encouraging tweet or note to Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who as I write is filibustering the Senate in support of gun control. Tell your senators to join him. (Mine is: Hats off to tireless WA Senator Patty Murray!)

A few months ago, I rented a car at San Francisco International Airport. I was assigned a stop-sign red VW bug, which made me feel happy and confident as I drove down to my friend’s house in Palo Alto. The next day, wearing a red dress that matched the car—pure coincidence! So Californian, so karmic!—I drove a few miles more to meet another friend. When I returned to the car, it wouldn’t start. I tried everything I could think of. Finally, desperately, I called my husband back in Seattle to see if he had any last-minute ideas, before I called a tow truck.

“Did you try putting your foot on the brake while you turned the key?” he asked.

Had not occurred to me. Not for a second.

I put my foot on the brake, and the car started right up.

Sometimes you just have to put your foot on the brake.

Just stop fearing people who aren’t like you, so you can start getting to know them.

Just stop the Senate down for a filibuster, like Senator Murphy: so that we can start getting assault weapons out of the hands of would-be murderers.

Just. Stop.

Upcoming reading: June 23, 7pm, with Hollis Giammatteo at King’s Books in Tacoma. And an upcoming screening too: our documentary film, Zona Intangible, premieres June 26, 6pm at the Rainier Arts Center in Seattle.


Father Solstice

12294725_1023642207693534_3470832158015669034_n 2 I was in it for the Beaconettes. What’s not to love about a holiday choir decked in sky-high beehive hairdos festooned with strings of lights? So I braved the bone-chilling Seattle December rain and headed for the annual tree-lighting at our neighborhood’s new gathering spot, a mini-park called the Columbia City Gateway. My husband was waiting for me, hot chocolate in hand. Aahhh.

We tried to figure out where the tree was. Turns out it was a telephone pole. This would be a pole lighting. But that’s OK—it’s Columbia City, where even a pole lighting in a downpour can somehow still promise to be festive.

There were some mercifully short introductory remarks, and then the night’s celebrity guest was introduced: Father Christmas himself, or, as the announcer added, “Father Solstice, if you prefer.” And what a FatherSolsticemagnificent Father Christmas/Solstice he was: fur-crowned, green-robed, cascading white beard and hair.

I was kicking myself for not having added one more layer to my winter-rain getup and feeling anxious to see the Beaconettes before I crossed over into hypothermia. My husband saw me shivering and put his arms around me. Then Father Solstice stepped up to the microphone, wrapping us all in his gentle yet commanding presence: the kind of presence that long years of addressing such crowds can give a man, especially one with mythical tendencies.

I’m paraphrasing here, but this is what I remember of what Father Solstice said: “I won’t talk long, I promise. I know you’re wet and cold. But I just want to remind you about some refugees you might have heard about. Two thousand years ago, they were looking for a place to stay, because one of them was about to have a baby. Door after door was barred against them. And I’m bringing them up because this year, we’re more tempted than ever to bar our doors against the refugees of the world. More tempted than ever to act out of fear, instead of love.”

“Who remembers,” Father Solstice went on, “when Seattle was declared a Sanctuary City in the 1980s? Maybe it’s time to reclaim that vow.”

The soggy crowd was quiet.

“OK,” said Father S, snapping us back to the present. Let’s count down and light that pole!”

We all counted down, clapping and cheering when the telephone pole lit up. Then the Beaconettes stirred and glowed and we crowded in so we could hear them over the deluge as they belted out their trademark carols featuring rewritten lyrics about contemporary life in Seattle, which this year included riffs on marijuana, Amazon, Fitbits and Bertha the wayward tunnel-digger. They were hilarious, as always.

But it was Father Solstice who stayed with me, as we walked off into the dark.

Is it still possible to be a sanctuary city? What it technically means is that Seattle is a city where police officers are not allowed to ask about an individual’s immigration status. What “sanctuary city” also meant, in the 1980s, was a place where many churches and activists provided sanctuary for refugees fleeing violence in Central America and, later on, other turbulent places in the world.

Is it possible, in these times, not to offer sanctuary? In his Sunday speech from the Oval Office, President Obama called the terrorists of the Islamic State—which is neither reflective of more than a tiny, warped sliver of Islam, nor a state—“thugs and killers.” How can we not offer sanctuary when murderous thugs are driving waves of terrified people into exile? How can we be the ones who cry out, “no room at the inn?”

And yet: what kind of sanctuary are we, when our country is flooded with firearms, bedecked and bedazzled with them, to a degree that must make the violent thugs of the world quiver with envy? When our politicians shout, “yes, bar those doors!” even as they encourage the flow of guns from the factories and into the hands of everyone who wants one or two or two dozen, whether they’re terrorists, armed robbers, or duck hunters?

Turns out Father Christmas/Solstice is a long-time peace activist in Seattle named Bob Barnes. I had the honor of meeting him, and thanking him for what he said, after the pole-lighting; an event, I told him, that I won’t soon forget. Thanks, Beaconettes, and thank you, Bob. The holiday season in Seattle may be dark and sodden, but it has its bright moments. “Bright,” as in happy strings of lights on beehive hairdos and on one telephone pole. And “bright” as in: a man in a green cloak and furry crown, willing to shine a light right where we need it most.

In the mood for another seasonal tale? Here’s one I called “A Manger Story,” published this week on the Patheos Good Letters site. 

Radio news: After four years, The Restless Nest has retired from its weekly radio spot on KBCS. This will give me more time to work on some longer projects. But I’ll continue to post here at least a few times a month. 


On a December Day

DSC00865One recent December day, my husband and I witnessed a rare event: a moment of silence on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. It was our first-ever trip to the visitors’ gallery at the Capitol. We were still trying to make sense of what appeared to be a gathering of 435 people engaged in animated speed-dating when the gavel thundered exactly twice and Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon was given the floor. The congressman spoke briefly of the Clackamas Mall shooting, in which two people were killed, three including the gunman, who took his own life. The moment of silence ensued. Then the speed-dating resumed. After a vote on something involving asthma inhalers and quips exchanged with the young intern next to us re Speaker Boehner’s strikingly varnished skin color, we left, assuming, without giving it much thought, that Blumenauer’s mild call for attention to the nightmare of gun violence would go, as per usual, unheeded.

A day and a half later, I attended a poetry reading at a Seattle elementary school where I’d been an apprentice with Seattle Arts & Lectures’ Writers in the Schools program. Parents, grandparents and squirmy younger siblings crowded into the school library to hear the fifth graders read of their passion for the color orange, for football, for horses, dogs, cats, tropical fish, recess, hot chocolate. I listened a bit wistfully, nostalgic for my own days as an elementary school parent. But I left with a smile on my face: how could one not feel hope and happiness after a morning like that?

Then I looked at my phone and saw a news alert bearing a number I thought couldn’t make sense. Must be a typo. 27 dead? At an elementary school?

And so the day unfolded, so very differently than I, than any of us, had thought it would.

Even before our Capitol visit, our east coast trip had been unexpectedly patriotically-themed. It started in New York, when we went to pay our respects at Ground Zero. Before we got to the site itself, we visited tiny St. Paul’s Church, just a few hundred yards away, where a home-made altar covered with flyers and photos of 9-11 victims still stands, right next to what was once George Washington’s private pew. A sign on the pew explained that after 9-11, exhausted search and rescue crews sat there to get their feet massaged.

Something about that layering of history moved us, on our next stop, to visit the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, where we saw for ourselves what millions of other visitors already knew: it’s the jagged crack in the bell that is so compelling. A timeless reminder that democracy is fragile. It’s not an unbreakable, forever joyously clanging bell; sometimes it’s an exhausted New York firefighter whose feet are wrecked.

A few days later in DC, we walked up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I thought once again of Steven Spielberg’s movie depiction of President Lincoln’s personal evolution on the subject of slavery. Just as our bell-ringing founding fathers were not born revolutionaries, Lincoln did not start his political life as a committed abolitionist. The tragedy of war took him there. As we can only hope the tragedies in Colorado and Oregon and now Connecticut will take President Obama to a place of leadership on gun control; to a new era when one moment of silence on a December day will no longer be considered an adequate response to senseless gun violence.

At the end of his 1865 inaugural address, Lincoln called on the country—“With malice toward none; with charity for all”—to, quote, “do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Peace among ourselves: in this season when we invoke the word so often, doesn’t the time seem right to do all which may achieve it? 

Speaking of the season: check out The Restless Critic’s Christmas movie list, in which he reveals our family’s annual guilty pleasure film. 

Our films, The Church on Dauphine Street, 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle and Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story are now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

Safety, Take Two

He didn’t think there was any way to get help for his son. And now six people are dead.

How did we get to this place in modern history where we routinely take better care of our bodies, our teeth, our cars, our homes than we do our minds, our hearts, our souls? If we’re lucky enough to have health insurance, it probably doesn’t cover mental health. Maybe medications: pills to make us less anxious or depressed. Maybe. But treatment? Therapy? No, our national mental health plan is to turn our most tortured souls out on the streets. Let them fend for themselves. Let them buy guns, no problem there! Let their aging parents and other relatives do what they can. But as long as it’s not our mentally ill relative, it’s not our problem.

If you are that aging parent, like Walter Stawicki, the father of Ian Stawicki, who killed five people, gravely wounded another and killed himself in Seattle on May 30, you know what resources are out there for your troubled adult child: none.  A 2006 survey ranked Washington state 47th in the number of psychiatric beds per capita. And involuntary commitment is well nigh impossible, unless your unstable relative is making imminent, life-endangering threats to another person. The Seattle Times reports that every month, between 15 hundred and two thousand people are evaluated by mental health professionals under the state’s involuntary treatment act. Two thirds of them are turned away.

So Walter Stawicki assumed, correctly, that there was little he could do to get his son the care he so clearly needed.

Meanwhile, people in central and south Seattle are still anguished over the May 24th death of Justin Ferrari, a Madrona dad caught in the crossfire of a gun battle on Cherry Street. And many are wondering: how did that killer slip away?            Whoever he is, that killer slipped away a long time ago.

Just as we have become accustomed to ignoring the needs of the mentally ill, we have grown accustomed to the stories of Seattle children who turn to the streets, to gangs, to drugs, to meet needs never met at school or home. We hear “argument on Cherry Street” and think we know all about it: it must have been gang-related or drug-related, we say, shaking our heads. But isn’t routinely ignoring the needs of children in crisis just as tragic as ignoring the needs of the mentally ill?

I’m with Kaaren Andrews, a mom and Seattle Schools principal who, in an eloquent Op-Ed in the Seattle Times, asks us to stop ignoring those kids. Stop writing them off and then shaking our heads when another tragedy occurs. Maybe no one has come forward to identify the killer of Justin Ferrari because they fear it will just add to the misery: they assume any informant will be targeted not only by gang members but by the police.

“No one chooses a life of street violence,” Andrews writes. “We all want safety, happiness and hope.” Just as no one chooses to be mentally ill.

Quaker author Parker Palmer writes of the power of turning a broken heart into a heart broken open. Let’s not let these tragedies break our hearts. Let’s break our hearts open to compassion, to empathy, to reaching across all the streets that divide us and finding ways to help.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.


I’m a big fan of optimism. Often, I’m brave enough to actually call myself an optimist. Other words I like are: Hope. Compassion. Love. But sometimes—and this is one of those times—we have to acknowledge that there is evil in the world. And because evil is often so random, arbitrary, senseless—all words I don’t like at all, and I’m sure you don’t either—because this is true, there is no such thing as total immunity from evil.

Safety is an illusion. Let it go. Be sensible, don’t go courting evil, but just let go of the fantasy that it won’t ever touch you.

Ask the families and friends of the four people killed and two wounded in gun violence in Seattle today. Today: Wednesday, May 30, 2012. One shooting happened at a café in the University District, the other in a parking lot outside Town Hall. We don’t know much more than that yet, but we will soon. We’ll learn names and heartbreaking details.

Ask the family of Justin Ferrari, caught in the crossfire of an argument on a Seattle street last week, dead at 43 from a gunshot wound to the head.  May 24. Ask the family of Nicole Westbrook, just 21 and brand-new to our city when she too was killed by a stray bullet. April 22.

Ask the parents of Etan Patz, missing for 33 years and in the news again because Pedro Hernandez has suddenly confessed to killing Etan, a New York 6-year-old who was excited about walking to the school bus stop by himself for the first time. If Hernandez did it, we’ll still never really know why. Or why he waited so long to come clean.

Ask Chong Kim, whose real-life story was featured in a film called Eden, the most moving film I’ve seen so far at the Seattle International Film Festival. Kim was 18 when she was kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery: not in some distant corner of the globe but in the southwestern United States. It took her two years to find a way to escape: two years in which she witnessed the depths of degradation and evil to which humans can sink.

Here’s where my optimism comes in. In telling this horrifying tale, director Megan Griffiths, lead actor Jamie Chung and the rest of the Eden cast and crew are bravely shining a light ON evil: the kind of evil that hates light, that shrinks and sometimes even dies in the heat of it. And Griffiths is also taking made-in-Washington filmmaking to a level of seriousness—in terms of content and artistry—that thrilled me. The Film Festival program hails her as a “local filmmaker,” but in the Northwest that has long been code for “not as good as we wish.” No more. Griffiths has made the words “Seattle” and “filmmaker” proud to be seen together in the same sentence.

When I saw Eden I wondered: why is Megan Griffiths not getting the same kind of spotlight some other young directors are getting?

I think one reason is our discomfort with the subject matter. It is hard to focus without flinching on the darkest side of human nature. It is hard to dwell on how casually evil chooses its victims: a boy on a New York street; a Seattle dad caught in a crossfire, a naïve girl plucked from a bar in Nowheresville, New Mexico.

When Eden plays again in Seattle, as I’m sure it will, go see it. Be proud of Chong Kim for telling her story. Be proud of Megan Griffiths for making this movie.

There is no such as safety. But courage is alive and well. I know: I saw it on the screen just a few days ago.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.


I was going to write about something completely different, until I heard the news about the third tragedy in three weeks involving young children and guns in our state. Two children dead, one seriously wounded.  Will there be another by the time you hear this? Is this some kind of horrifying epidemic?  I hope not. I pray not.

What I was all set to write about was a phrase that caught my eye: novelist and artist Douglas Coupland’s contention, in a recent New York Times book review, that we “live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times.”

A post-era Era.  Really? Maybe we just haven’t decided how to “brand” our era yet because there’s a lot about it that’s not pretty. Maybe our zeitgeist is fear.

It is my unschooled opinion, as a non-gun-owner, that people choose to own guns because fear defines their lives. I’m not talking about hunters here, I’m talking about people who carry handguns or assault rifles.  I’ll say it again: fear defines their lives. They fear the unknown, the unpredictable, the bad thing that could suddenly happen, the bad person that could suddenly appear—and they hope that a loaded gun under the seat of their car will protect them.  Instead, their 3 or 7 or 9 year old finds that gun and a child winds up dead or gravely wounded. And the whole world grieves. And then it happens again. And again.

And maybe some people think, Wow, there are a lot of unhinged people out there with guns, people so distracted they forget to keep them away from their children—so I better get a gun too, in case I encounter one of those wackos. And the fear just escalates and escalates.

I don’t usually write like this. I am an optimist. I really don’t want to believe we live in the Era of Fear. More than anything, I wish I could convince people who let fear define their lives of the alternative, which is, of course, love.

One thing I’ve never understood is how people of faith reconcile gun ownership with their religion. The Bible preaches love. Jesus urged his followers to love their enemies, not fear them. Not take up arms against them. The old prophet Isaiah, living in the bloodiest of times, foretold an era when we would “beat swords into ploughshares.”

We’re not there yet.  We’re here, in a world where loaded guns are left within reach of children.

So back to Douglas Coupland. He says the Internet enables us to live in a time in which “all eras co-exist at once.” When I look up an old music clip on Youtube or some historical fact on Wikipedia, I think, “Great! I love this!”

But when I read about voter intimidation laws, or anti-contraception laws, or small children killing each other with handguns, and I realize they are not stories of the Jim Crow South or the pre-Feminist era or the Wild West, they are this week’s news stories—well, then Coupland’s declaration takes on a whole new, dark,  anarchic sort of meaning.

We live in the era in which all the fears of past eras keep circling back to haunt us.

Last week, I wrote about feeling like I’m every age I ever was.  This week, I feel like we, collectively, are every age we ever were as a country. As a people.  As a sentient species with the purported ability to learn and grow.  To turn fear into love. But can we? Will we? Maybe that’s the question that will define our post-era Era.

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available. Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.

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