When The Levee Has Broken

“When The Levee Breaks”
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin’ ’bout my baby and my happy home
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And all these people have no place to stay
Now look here mama what am I to do
Now look here mama what am I to do
I ain’t got nobody to tell my troubles to
I works on the levee mama both night and day
I works on the levee mama both night and day
I ain’t got nobody, keep the water away
Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
Oh cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do no good
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to lose
I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works on the levee, mama both night and day
I works so hard, to keep the water away
I had a woman, she wouldn’t do for me
I had a woman, she wouldn’t do for me
I’m goin’ back to my used to be
I’s a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
I’s a mean old levee, cause me to weep and moan
Gonna leave my baby, and my happy home
Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Joe McCoy
When The Levee Breaks lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing
It’s unusual for the Summer Solstice to pass out on the plains here under dripping skies and cool weather; up in the High Country several of our skiing areas celebrated the first weekend of summer by having open slopes and you bet there were flocks of snowbirds up there having a grand old time in the snow on Midsummer.  Adjusting to the weather is just what we do, even while we try to understand it.  Even if we work to alter it to benefit us and the planet as a whole. But don’t you dare think about changing the weather in Colorado without a permit, because that’s against the law. Weather is pretty serious business in Colorado. This Solstice we had to come to terms with the fact that Mother Nature decided to water the lawn out here again, and that put me in mind of other times in my life I’ve had to just let it rain.  In Colorado we are still recovering from the last time the skies overwatered us in a short period of time: In September 2013 we had an epic flood.  One of my favourite towns, the Town of Lyons, was entirely evacuated because their whole town was cut off due to roads being washed out, and so many homes being washed away or flooded dangerously with water and mud.  Watching them be lifted out by helicopter and escorted out by Serious Emergency Services was gut-wrenching: that was no summer blockbuster movie, those were my neighbors.  We have all seen archival footage of devastating floods around the world, and many of our nation’s citizens have lived through the lengthy horror of flooding: Katrina created refugees in our very own country, and I  have met several of them who relocated here to Colorado and heard their tales of inestimable sorrow.  When I was a girl sperm donor would tell me stories of the time he was assigned with his whole base in Biloxi, Keesler Air Force Base, to clean up the mess left by Hurricane Camille. As of 2016, Camille was the 17th most destructive hurricane in the US since 1950.  As our climate shifts and weather patterns get stronger, and storms get more severe from the added energy available in our planet’s greater ecosystem, the tales I heard about that terrible two weeks he spent cleaning up neverending debris and looking for bodies seems our normal operating pattern lately.  It’s hard to live in an area where the climate is supposed to follow a pattern of rainfall only during certain periods, with copious sunshine the rest of the year, and not think of catastrophic flood stories when it rains for days at a time outside the normal rainy season, or goes over the rainfall averages.  As of this writing, Colorado is 2.03″ above normal for annual precipitation.  For a state perpetually in and out of drought conditions, this is both very welcome…and a little unnerving. Every time water falls out of the sky in larger than expected quantities, I start humming “When the Levee Breaks”, whether I want to or not.  That song is indelibly linked with disastrous floods: it was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that inspired it; one of the songwriters lived through that monstrous event and the shameful social disparity following it that caused so much strife in our nation.  Many historians point to this disaster and its aftermath as the point where the social ideologies of the democratic and republican parties switched.  For that reason, the song has been remade, rewritten, and re-recorded many times over as an anthem of social justice and change.  If you read the lyrics, it is easy to see why: the pain and sorrow of the performers are poignant and comes through strongly.  Songwriters such as Robert Plant and Maynard James Keenan have altered the lyrics subtly to reflect current events (such as the mention of Chicago in the Led Zepplin version), but in spite of my love for all the remakes you just can’t beat the original recording by Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie.  If you really want to get a feel for the times, you gotta get you some blues in your blood (and ears).  A Perfect Circle remade the song in 2013 and it is haunting; the entire album eMotive is a testament to struggling through difficulty and standing up for what is right even though it is brutally difficult, and hearing “When The Levee Breaks” remade with such eerie vocals makes me think of how lonely it is to be cold and wet.

In spite of the maudlin thoughts that want to creep in and settle into comfy chairs at the forefront of my mind when it rains a lot, I have learned that way only leads to dangerous curves around the bend towards depression and bitterness. It’s easier to divert the sad thoughts into emotive energy that will make me feel better instead of worse, which is more or less the opposite of what I used to do when I refused anyone’s help.  After lots of practice, that is.  The effervescent poet Shel Silverstein wrote a poem in homage to that age-old adage “you can’t eat an elephant in one bite” called “Melinda Mae”, and ever since my fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Ramona Tillitson read it to us I understood the philosophy: take your time and be patient enough to do the job thoroughly and right, so it actually gets done no matter how long it takes.  Shel Silverstein makes concepts like that so fun, you just absorb it along with the cadence of his poetry.  If you get the chance to listen to an audiobook of him reading his own work, I highly recommend it. The man is so uplifting to hear.  So even though our town’s annual balloon festival was grounded and rained on, no-one bothered to file permits to attempt to change the weather because honestly.  Also it’s apparently very expensive to change the weather, and of course Mom gets veto power because our science is imperfect and She might just laugh at your attempts.  And there may be Consequences.  So I just look at the dripping trees and think of all the happy farmers and ranchers right now, who are glad the fields are getting a nice drink.  Even if they also hope it doesn’t go on too long.  Farmers, ranchers, and plains-dwelling pragmatists of all sorts are familiar with the principle of Occam’s Razor quite well.

“When The Levee Breaks” was not something that would have been permitted to play in the house I grew up in, even though I was raised on blues, bluegrass, folk, and good ole rock-and-roll.  There were defined limits on what I could listen to, and anything out of that narrowly defined area was Satanic, part of a weird political/social ideology that creeped me out and alienated my whole family socially, but what I heard as profoundly moving poetic philosophy.  Music bonds people together, whether we want it to or not.  Humans are moved by music no matter who we are, where we are, what we have experienced, or at what point along in our natural lifespan’s development we are.  Music is something intrinsically tied to our nervous systems: the benefits of music in uteris quite extensively explored on a scientific level, backing up what countless mothers have known since the beginning of time.  That link is to a National Institute of Health study report on the phenomenon, and in the sidebar are links to various other peer-reviewed and cited studies and reports on how music impacts the nervous system.  Everything from memory to speech is tied to our response to music. The appreciation of this fact is one example of the bridge between science and faith: as human beings, we instinctively feel a response whether we like the music or loathe it…or are indifferent.  Science has now verified the why and how of that response, and just when it begins to manifest on a physiological level.  At the opposite end of the thread, when life is ending rather than beginning, music soothes the pained or fearful person.  There is a reason even hardened soldiers of any banner will sing or hum to their mortally wounded to ease their passing.  And why, when we rock and stroke our beloved elders when they are struggling toward the release of a long life’s work, we often sing to them songs of our own childhood or theirs.  Humans use music to speak to each other on a level we all feel together, and for that reason I have tried very hard to never turn my ear away from any of it.  I have listened to many awful hours of music I felt was just terrible, but I listened to it anyway because maybe I was asked to by a friend who truly adored them (please do not ask me to ever listen to U2; I was overdosed on them as a teenager by a dear friend who was consumed with passion for U2, and my response to them now is “oh no not again”.  Nothing against the chaps and their art; it’s really phenomenal for the most part and I still retain a fierce love for maybe two songs because of their meaning, but dear gods I listened to so much U2 for love of Alicia combined with the ubiquitous radio play of Joshua Tree that sometimes they are the soundtrack for my anxiety fits.).  Or perhaps I was in the car with someone and it’s only polite to let the driver or owner of the vehicle choose what’s on the radio.  Driver picks the music, shotgun shuts his cakehole.  Those are the rules of the road, any road.  Most memorably, I still love the song “Achy Breaky Heart” even though it was the anthem my company commanders played relentlessly during our cycling sessions in boot camp.  Cycling is the military term for “vigorous, rapid-paced, grueling exercise you cannot stop or else you face Public Humiliation and more while being bellowed at to accompanying loud noises”.  In terms of seeing how far you can push yourself, it’s fun and silly and you would laugh if your abdominal muscles weren’t about to explode into shreds and you couldn’t breathe. I am not a fan of most modern country but play me Kenny Rogers and I’m ready for a ten-gallon hat and spurs.  Don’t discount seeing me in that, either, because I love to dress up, remember.  Music may change and evolve over time and place just like people do, so I am mindful to remember that someone else may have a song in their repertoire of favourites I will find just as provocative so listening does no harm and may bring me some good.  Sometimes, though, the crazy sounds coming out of my son’s speakers make me think we have indeed crossed that futuristic threshold where music is now just noise.  Our family calls this “doodle music”, after a turn of phrase my mother-in-law used to use for heavy metal to my husband back in the heady days of Hair Bands.  Doodle music changes constantly because what may be doodle music to me one day is just fine the next; it depends on my mood.  If I am feeling relaxed and settled into something and I am suddenly blasted with some speedcore synthwave mix, I tend to get tetchy and tell him to switch channels.  He’s usually happy to oblige, since his standard playlist includes heaps of old jazz from the 30s.  If it’s my husband suddenly cranking up the speedcore, I might have to plead my case a little longer.  He’s rarely in the speedcore mood these days.

concertselfie3

My kids have taught me as much about music as my parents did, and as much as I learned on my own regarding my own tastes and preferences.  As a tween, I was a New Romantic that dipped briefly into the metal scene before realising it was punk and goth that was my true love.  The brashness and sheer Celtic fury of punk blending with the beating rhythmic influence of the other huge tribal continent of Africa pleased the little philosopher in me, as well as the angry victim of abuse that couldn’t escape.  And the existential dramatic horror of goth was like mixing Poe and Sartre to creepy old Hollywood film music: just too delightful. They both came with dress-up packages, too.  Much more varied ones than all the other music scenes, and you could get them on the cheap from thrift stores and your closets from way in the back.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.  All throughout my kids’ lives, I have allowed them to choose their own soundtracks: from suffering through the jingles of Barney and Blue’s Clues to shifting channels on vehicle radios to experiment my ears on Jimmy Eat World and even, occasionally, Justin Beiber, I never turned down giving whatever they wanted me to hear an honest sufferance.  They just had to in turn suffer through my musical education of them, which meant learning an appreciation of Beethoven to The Andrews Sisters, Santana to Tool. Or at least an honest listen.  Sometimes being an eternal captive audience, since my husband and I were married to Ode To Joy and therefore Symphony Number Nine in its entirety is often played in our household or on journeys and no-one gets to change it while it is on.  That education has often yielded strange fruits, such as my daughter’s unalloyed devotion to Journey and my son’s aforementioned penchant for old jazz.  But the best fruit is their open enjoyment of all music.  My daughter is a fan of everything from a cappella to N.W.A so when she had the chance to enjoy not just one but two concerts for her birthday this year, she was indeed overjoyed.  The big one was to see Pentatonix, and if you don’t know who these guys are then I feel bereft for you.  As their name implies, they are a group of five, and they are an a cappella group that got their start on Sing-Off.  The link simply takes you to my favourite song of theirs; it’s one of their original compositions, and the video is typical of their creative visual style as well.  They even have a side project already, Superfruit (and you will really enjoy that video if you are a fan of Amanda Palmer, The Dresden Dolls, or steampunk).  The night before the Pentatonix concert was a much smaller concert up in Fort Collins to see Calpurnia, a rock quartet fronted by Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things.  Their music is a blend of covers of classic rock (mostly B-sides and obscure songs only Old People and aficionados would really ken to) mixed with their own original stuff that is, indeed, original.  I was listening to it intermittently before the show and really pleased with the variety of the sound: one song was reminiscent of old Rolling Stones while the next was sort of old Pearl Jam.  But it was still very much All Calpurnia.  And live they lost none of their sound and gained all sorts of layers; Finn sure can sing as well as bounce around like a human pogo stick.  I spent all my wayward youth going to concerts in small venues, not realising that those actually did count as concerts while all my peers only counted the huge venue productions.  I lost count of the shows I have seen in places like The Green Door and The Roxy and Whisky A Go-Go.  I was excited to introduce my daughter into the joys of the Small Venue, since all she had experienced so far is the overwhelming Press of Humanity that is the Large Venue.  Needless to say, she had a blast.  My husband dropped us off and took off with my son to go to the movies; they still haven’t let me forget they have seen John Wick 3 and I haven’t, but I was my daughter’s date for that concert and I have no regrets.  I bet the decibel level of each event was about the same, even though the excellent area the staff of the Aggie Theater in Fort Collins chose for wibbly-wobbly handicapped me was pretty close to the speaker stacks.  If I had wanted noise protection, I would have brought it.  As it was, the staff at the Aggie was amazing.  One of the security guards (and I have forgotten his name; he wore dreads and had a Caribbean accent, so those were some authentic dreads) noticed me and my cane right away and not only fetched me a stool and ensconced me in that Most Excellent Spot…he brought me a fresh bottle of water and would not let me pay for it right after I had spilled the last swallow in my first bottle and attempted to clean it up.  Seriously…he appeared out of nowhere right as I started to fetch some paper towels, as if he had been summoned by some invisible Spilled Water bell, and insisted I sit back down while he tend to everything.  Aggie Theater, people.  What a staff and what a show.  Because the bartender was just as Seriously Amicable whenever I went up to get another bottle of water or when my daughter went to get some snacks.  Fort Collins is always a fun place to go; we visit there regularly for the drive-in and a few other things, but this was our first time at the Aggie.  This show was a pleasure from the time we stepped out of the car at the curb until the time we stepped back in.  It wasn’t my daughter’s first encounter with street people, since we often walk the pedestrian malls of Pearl Street in Boulder and the 16th Street Mall in LoDo Denver.  And having been a Street Person myself, I know how to talk to and socialise with them.  There was a small gaggle of street folk outside the Aggie, and I talked with a couple and hugged one of them.  One of them had a dog; he walked up and down the line waiting to get into the show, and he was of the sort of people who had self-medicated with booze (and probably other things) for too long.  He was intoxicated at the time; I could smell it several feet away, and although the smell of booze is a huge trigger for me in my sobriety, it was more important to protect both myself, the other people in line, and the homeless guy and his dog than worry about how much the smell made me want some cheap whiskey myself.  People who have self-medicated for so long they suffer wet brain (Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome) can be unpredictable much like people who suffer from PTSD or many other mental illnesses; the link describes in detail the symptoms of wet brain and points out the high rate of the condition among the homeless.  Most people do not understand this very simple yet complex condition and the reason behind the behaviour of street people so they treat them with fear and disgust; it was uncomfortable for my personal boundaries to gently dissuade this man from being overly friendly with me, my daughter, and the young ladies in line around me, but I gently dissuaded him anyway.  Fortunately he was easy to dissuade and just ambled up and down, but to the experienced eye he was very sick.  The dad and chaperone of the two teens behind us appreciated my street smarts that evening.  It’s never easy remembering that part of my path as a sober person is being of service to my community whenever I can, but unless I do make that effort I might end up crawling back into the prison of the bottle.  That’s why service is part of the recovery process: whether it’s helping a still-suffering alcoholic keep themselves safe, or teaching a teen the safe way to deal with an alcoholic not in their right mind…it is service that keeps me sober one more day.  The Fort Collins Police were on hand to make sure the area was safe, too: I saw several units in the area while we were queued up.  Fort Collins is a college town, so the place is usually pretty chill.  And it’s pretty.  It’s growing explosively and having a hell of a time building enough infrastructure to keep up with its growth.  I hope it keeps its frontier spirit and arty feel as it grows.

 

Calpurnia was a pure joy to watch perform; these guys obviously really love playing together.  Drummer Malcolm Craig was hypnotic.  I have a soft spot for drummers; while my daughter was eyeballing bassist Jack Anderson to pick up playing hints and tricks (she got a bass guitar for Yule last year), I kept getting distracted by the almost meditative way Malcolm played his drums.  I didn’t have George with me, so all my pictures are from my measly Samsung phone camera, and I had to crop them to make them even moderately suitable.  I kept trying to get a picture of when Malcolm transformed from meditative monk into playful gremlin behind his drum set, but without George’s chain shot feature all I got was a few grainy snaps, and my photo editing skills are wimpy.  The inside of the Aggie is an art set in itself, but you will have to go see a show there in order to see because none of my shots turned out.

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This concert was in May, and just about a week and a half after the Colorado STEM School Shooting and when I would normally see a lot of the graduation and summer break festivities starting among the younger folks…but had noticeably seen a dearth of instead. Colorado’s youth was feeling pretty shell-shocked, and it wasn’t until I saw the college grads in Fort Collins that I felt the jubilation I had been missing in my own town and youth.  My daughter felt that undercurrent of tension, though, and was moved herself to tag along a few weeks later with my husband and I when I asked her if she wanted to go to a rally for gun violence awareness on the way to visit an old family friend while she was in town.  This friend has been a part of our lives off and on since my daughter was still part of me: Arwen was a High Priestess of the coven our family was part of when we first moved to the Denver area from Connecticut, and she presided over my daughter’s Wiccaning.  A Wiccaning is akin to a baptismal, but it is a welcoming-back of the soul instead of the consecrating of it.  The child is named, the soul’s free will is recognised, and usually small gifts are given.  Usually, patrons are asked to look after the child until the child chooses either patrons of their own or revokes the patrons themselves. My daughter hadn’t seen Arwen since her infancy, although she had heard me tell many stories and knew we kept in touch.  Since my daughter just adores family stories and contacts, she was eager to reconnect.  My son and my husband were also pretty thrilled at the day’s activities; both of them remembered Arwen much more than my daughter!  Arwen is a pretty well-established name in pagan circles, since she has been stirring her cauldron on the internet for quite a long time; before I knew her she ran an epicurian group for the esoteric set.  She knew before anyone that pagans are foodies and The Pagan Table was raucous and tasty.  But she is best known for her vast and superb knowledge of the tarot and currently runs The Cartomancer.  We are very blessed to have her in our lives, even if she does live several states away and we only get to meet like ships in the night or when we can make our schedules crash up against each other.  My son looks like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind because he slept through the Wear Orange gun violence awareness rally; the top was down in my husband’s car.  He didn’t mean to sleep through it, but like me he is an insomniac that crashes at horribly inconvenient moments.  But he said he really didn’t mind, because the most important thing to him was getting to see Arwen; there would always be another gun violence awareness event.  The horrible double nature of his statement was almost more than I could take that evening.  My husband looks a little like Miguel from The Road to El Dorado in this shot of the four of them, but it’s the only shot I managed to get.

The weather was really nice for the Wear Orange event, for which I am thankful.  The storms have settled into a pattern since then, and not all of them are of the weather variety.  The weather ones may have grounded the hot air balloons, but we kept our spirits and the staff and volunteers really did an outstanding job in spite of things beyond anyone’s control.  Storms are a way of life out here on the plains, and we are pretty well practiced at adapting to life with them.  The more intangible storms are harder to deal with, however, and the Wear Orange Gun Violence Awareness event held at Parkfield Lake Park on June 8th for National Gun Violence Awareness Day was one of many efforts to calm those intangible storms.  It’s not often I can get out to events like this, because of my pain levels.  It’s hard for me to sit long periods, walk long distances, and I just don’t have the stamina regular people do.  And I am a perpetual slave to what my digestive system will tolerate at any given time.  Every day is different, so I operate on a wing and a prayer.  I was fortunate the stars aligned and I could attend this event.  I got to talk to a lot of people I missed being able to talk to in my years raising my kids; community networking is important to me, even if our neighborhoods are separated by a few miles.  I have a lot of wanderlust, and Colorado is very rich in culture and ethnicity, so now that I have more freedom to wander around and sample it all I sure plan on doing so to the best of my ability.  We have already done as much of that as we have been able to through camping and exploring historical, geological, paleontological, and cultural offerings as long as we have been here so why stop now?  I just have to adapt to current circumstances, just like everyone else.

The people we met were all friendly, enthusiastic with their information, and honest.  All volunteers, the folks were out to share with the comers to the event why it is important to curb gun violence in our homes and our neighborhoods.  And they all had a basic plan on how to do it.  None of the people there had ephemeral, weird, outlandish ideas on where gun violence is coming from or how to stop it.  None of them had any pie-in-the-sky ideas that it is somehow going to suddenly stop on a dime.  I have been a proponent of curbing gun violence my entire life, because I have been a victim of gun violence many, many times over.  I detailed some of my experiences with gun violence in a previous article, “Better A Red Flag Than A Black One”, but that article mostly focuses on my experiences as a perpetrator of gun violence.  In that article I discuss how I continued the cycle of violence by gun.  When I was a child, sperm donor always had a firearm of some sort.  He had both a long gun and sidearms.  While I grew up always knowing the safety aspect of firearms such as you always treat a weapon as loaded, you never point it at a person unless you intend to use it, always respect the rules of the range and obey the range master, and never EVER clean a loaded weapon (among other basics)…those rules were also regularly used against my mother and me during his frequent rages. Guns were regularly pointed at us, and we never knew if they were loaded.  Guns were cleaned in front of us while he ranted and raved about doing violent things to one or both of us, or other people.  The subject of weapons was often used in threatening or violent rages during which he destroyed furniture, walls, dishes, and anything else he felt the need to destroy: often he destroyed things he didn’t want to destroy and later blamed my mother and me for allowing him to ruin them.  My mother often put herself in the way so he would beat her when he looked like he was going to do damage to something expensive like a vehicle or stereo equipment.  When I was a teenager he actually loaded his rifle and pointed it at me when I threatened to leave; it was not the first or the last time he attempted to murder me.  Gun violence was another aspect of the cycle of abuse in my home life growing up, and when I found myself repeating it, it broke me.  Breakdowns are often breakthroughs, and in my case it was so: realising one became the very thing one always swore never to sink to is catalytic.  The Wear Orange event was the first time in thirteen years I had been able to publicly stand up and say I had healed enough in my PTSD to thank the other people doing the hard work of educating the public on the dangers of easy access to guns in our society.  I am one of the lucky ones who lived to tell the dangers, and so are my kids and my husband.  So are all the people who were out volunteering at the event on June 8th.

The event was organised by Moms Demand Action, a grassroots group started by Shannon Watts of Boulder.  Shannon is a feisty lady who gets all sorts of ridiculous telegraphed and targeted hate mail from the NRA and some rather boisterous ideologues.  In spite of that she continues her activism and volunteerism to get factual and practical information out about the root causes of gun violence, proactive planning measures on how to combat it using pro-science legislation and basic human decency in the form of ethical behaviour one-on-one and in group settings as a means of effective positive change.  It is a brilliant strategy of evolution, simple logic, and a multi-faceted approach that works brilliantly.  The only flaw in the mix is the overabundance of resistant ideologues.  Moms Demand Action is part of the Everytown Network, the most scientific collection of gun violence awareness thinkers and leaders and their data in the United States.  The data Everytown has assimilated and collected is peer-reviewed and vetted thoroughly.  It’s about as unbiased as you can get.  The common theme you will find among people who work intimately with gun violence is that it comes from easy access to guns as a means to channel the violence, and that is pretty much always the same whether the violence is from gang youths or affluent kids deciding to get back at their peers by shooting up their school or a middle-aged men “going postal” for reason du jour, or women getting full of  despair and gunning down anyone while they are hopped up on fear and anger.  The organisations that came out to work under pavilions for Moms Demand and Everytown know intimately where their data comes from, because they live that data every single day.  In the comments sections of my local news channels I hear people from all over the country asking the same questions or making the same statements over and over again: how can our legislators and politicians really know how to solve the gun violence issue, and how can they presume to know what the problem really is? They know because they have accessed the databases and reports at Everytown, and they go out into the neighborhoods where these reports are coming from and talk to these volunteers and families and survivors.  They go into the community centers and schools and parks and recreation centers and jails and police stations to find out the provenance of these stories and sweat in the sun, eat barbecue, spend afternoons and evenings really digging into tons of personal stories.  Because that is what the data is: stories of someone lost, or someone almost lost, a tale of a first responder who was there and felt powerless while they waited for the sound of shots to stop so they could advance, the story of the paramedic who had to pronounce, the school psychiatrist who had to schedule all the emergency sessions, and on and on and on.  All the people standing helpfully and hopefully under those pavilions beside their tables didn’t necessarily want to pack up and get rid of all the guns.  But they certainly did want people to be aware that the violence in our communities was unbearable, and the easy access to guns made the consequences of that violence untenable.  They all wanted to talk about ways to stem the violence more than the guns; the guns were periphery to the violence. Every single person I have ever talked to that desires gun control or a reduction in gun violence knows that in curbing violence itself, gun control is a natural side effect.  Most people who have a problem with violence simply lack a problem with control itself, and the harm they do with guns is a symptom of their lack of control in all other aspects of their lives and personalities.  A common counterargument to gun control is that if someone really wants to do damage they will use a knife or bomb, and that is true.  A violent person will attempt to inflict violence however they can, and the warning signs for that violence are usually pretty clear (hence why we now have ERPO going into law here in Colorado and so do several other states, and why it is being attempted on the federal level).  Stemming a person’s inclination toward violence itself is a lengthy and tedious process but like all change it is something that can’t be done instantaneously.  It isn’t a wardrobe change or a light switch.  It is a cognitive dissonance and in order for the change to be lasting it takes sincerity and consistent effort; rehabilitating the violent nature is psychological treatment just like healing someone from PTSD or sobering them up from alcoholism. I am a firm believer that just about anyone can change no matter what unless there are certain physical restrictions like neurological damage.  But I am leery of the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality because every single person on this planet since the beginning of time is different, with different challenges and opportunities. Every single one of us has a different lock and a different key.  Some of us deserve more freedom to discover them, and some of us should be locked up away from the rest of us while we figure it out, in order to keep everyone safe.  Humans are strange and enigmatic creatures.  All of us are finite and fallible, and all of us should at least try to help each other on our journeys.  This whole sea of violence thing we have going on in our nation and world right now is just despicable, and in America our love affair with things that go boom is just ludicrous.

The first people I ran into were the volunteers from Steps To Success, a grant-funded and almost exclusively volunteer- and community-run organisation based in the Montbello area of Denver/Aurora.  The link takes you to their Programs page; it’s sometimes overwhelming to navigate nonprofit websites and I want to highlight exactly what this group does for the community, and how.  It’s important to note the exacting evidence-based methods prevalent throughout their programs and the depths at which they permeate the community.  The key is early intervention and consistency, but also please note that even after law enforcement encounters, efforts are being made in partnership with the systems in place here.  Adapting is a gradual process, and Steps To Success is showing excellent results in an area of Denver we really need results.  Being proactive about violence is the first step in stemming gun violence; addressing specific issues where safety is lax and being proactive about that is another.  Many of the comments I repeatedly hear in response to gun control and gun violence awareness are reactionary and fearful about “gun-grabbing”; a lot of them seem suspicious and flavoured with the conspiracy theorist’s skepticism to not believe the rational data in front of their face but instead the shady half-truths whispered in tabloid channels.  This Dunning-Kuger Effect runs rampant in hot-button issues; it always has and it probably always will.  It’s how humans evolve socially and intellectually as a species.  Moms Demand Action and Everytown have implemented an awful lot of boots-on-the-ground programs using the resources of people in communities, law enforcement, and a whole slew of organisations to bring us BeSMART, an educational campaign on safe gun storage, handling, and suicide dangers for kids.  Teaching kids the safety basics on safe gun storage, learning safe handling in case of emergencies, and respect for these potentially lethally dangerous items is one step toward eliminating some of the gun violence we currently have in our society.  The most tragic loss of all is a child who unwittingly gains access to a gun and fires it on accident.  And impressing upon our youth the terrible consequences of suicide is a powerful deterrent to the budding punk messing around with a gun solo for the first time, for whatever reason.  Many law enforcement officers over the years have extolled the virtues of towing around vehicles salvaged from DUI wrecks to schools as part of safe driving courses; the BeSMART program aims to do that in part for accidental shootings.  Their volunteers were at the event, with kids, and many kid activities.  I am signed up to be a volunteer for them in my area now; I may not want to shoot a gun anymore, but I can still teach kids how to safely handle one.

The next couple of tables I visited just blew me away with their warmth and compassion and welcome.  I wish I could have created another one of me right then and there and sent her home with them to just volunteer with them full-time, they were so enjoyable.  And they were so inspiring.  This is of course impossible, and why I am grateful I have learned to respect my limits.  My volunteeritis has landed me in trouble with my health more than once.  The river of orange shirts behind the tables for The R.I.S.E. NetworkFamilies Against Violent Acts (FAVA)(see link for info on founder Dianne Cooks), and The Struggle of Love Foundation were all full of life, happiness, and spreading joy. These were not ideologues spitting hellfire and fury and fear hunkering down doing nothing.  They were people who hugged me freely and laughed with me and didn’t judge me about anything; they helped me pick up my cane when I dropped it and we all shared our thoughts and ideas and feelings. They didn’t laugh at me when I said I felt like crying.  We shared our similar stories of sadness, loss, frustration, but ultimately conviction and hope and insistence that we would just do better however we could, every day.  We were all different shades of skin, all different shapes in that skin, all different ages along in that skin.  Our meat didn’t matter so much as what that meat contained, and we were all there to inspire each other, help each other, and raise each other up while at the same time comfort each other while we collectively mourned each other’s terrible wounds.  It was momentous.  When I was a teenager I lived through the periphery of the Rodney King riots; my posh town of Pasadena had a few outbreaks of looting, and its suburb of Altadena was rocked a bit more because of the higher POC population, lower classes all around, and less security.  Seeing that much volatility up close and personal seriously sunk home the real meaning of that protest anthem “Fuck The Police”.  After hearing that blast from the back quarter of my neighborhood back forty for years, the riots were neither unexpected nor unsurprising in their severity. I stayed as far out of the way as possible.  I didn’t need the military to teach me how to hide from flying bullets. The lingering aftereffects are woeful, however, and like everything else change begins from the inside, at home. These volunteers sporting orange get that more than most people who try to listen to Dr. Dre and Ice-T today.

 

It is one of my joys to take pictures of people doing the things they enjoy, interacting with other people.  A photograph can convey a great deal of presence and emotion, and tell a pretty powerful story, but I prefer to accompany my photos with a little more detail in order to enrich the story they show with the story they don’t show; it’s often the story not shown that reveals the real power behind the punch.  There weren’t reams and reams of people at this event, but there were quite a few people there, enjoying the sun and green growing things and the end of the long winter.  Scores and scores of people gathering in this beautiful park next to the Rocky Mountain National Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, where we used to make chemical weapons and stockpile them and other weapons of mass destruction but thanks to the EPA and it’s Superfund site regulations and funds and massive efforts, is now a refuge for wildlife and a place for the public to go and seek knowledge and peace.  There were Disney Princesses.  I am sure they wore sunscreen.  There were musicians and dancers from I don’t know where but holy smokes they were really great and even better…they were having a ton of fun.  I could tell by their sassy, smiling faces that this was the best time they had had in at least a week.  Most of my shots came out terrible, but I did manage to get a few snaps of some supercalifragilisticexpialidocious faces; those gals moved and grooved too well for my spot and lens.  The speakers were inspiring, of course, and I only cried a little. The event was advertised by AG Weiser, so he was there sporting the orange.  My daughter was very pleased to meet him, although my son was very bummed since he fell asleep in the car.  I’m sure he will get another chance to speak his mind.  He had wanted to wear his “gun shirt”, as he calls it, a gift from a family friend he goes shooting with who is a gunsmith.  It says “I am the Weapon”, and is from a fashion line normally worn by pro-gun enthusiasts.  He was going to wear it along with his orange blaze tied to his belt, as an invitation to discuss how one can be both a gun owner and pro-gun control, but his shirt was dirty.  I was proud of him for wanting to make the effort though; we often make that effort in other ways and sometimes make headway and bridges.  Since he fell asleep it didn’t matter in the end, but there’s always another chance.  I was happy to see so many families at the event.  Change begins at home, with the individual and then with families. On such a nice day, it was bolstering to my spirits to see many families take the opportunity to spend the afternoon in the park effecting positive change in a community effort like this.

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I am so enamoured with the faces of the dancers (and I wish I had taken note of which troupe this was, so I could credit them and send them these pictures, even though they are pretty bad, because THE FACES!), I had to snag special edits of just the faces of my favourite expressions and put them in a special slideshow and folder. Sometimes when I need a special pick-me-up I open up some of my photo folders and look at photos that make me smile; I call these my heartboxes.  Here is one of my special heartboxes, of these joyous and free faces doing their thing for their world.  What gifts these girls are.  My measly and novice photo editing skills just don’t do them justice.

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017While all of the above experiences were incredibly uplifting, I had two encounters at the Wear Orange event that made me cry, and I am not in the least ashamed to admit it.  It was a very moving event, designed to raise awareness about gun violence, and as such survivors were invited to come share their experiences with all present.  A special pavilion was set up for 5280 Survivors, an earth-shaking group of mothers and grandmothers based in Aurora that is centered around the fierce love of Sharletta Evans.  Ms. Evans lost her toddler son in a drive-by shooting, and after the rallying support of her community faded away but her grief stayed, she decided to galvanize them back into action because the violence didn’t end…the Reaper just visited another family, and another, and another.  The link for this rousing force takes you to their events page; although no specific dates are given, a live chat window is available and several other contact avenues are available.  5280 Survivors is extremely serious about helping people, all people, grab the violence problem by the horns and wrestling it to the ground.  That may sound like an oxymoron, using a violent metaphor for defeating violence, but it’s not a wrestling match of violence; it’s a wrestling match of discipline.  Ms. Evans uses methodology and heart together like the most seasoned cognitive behavioural therapy psychiatrist.  She is an immovable wall of insistent determination and patience and consistent, dogged logic that simultaneously wears on all of your heart-strings.  She is everyone’s mother.  The son she lost to senseless violence by way of a misused gun is everyone’s son.  The callous disregard for the rules of respect a lethally dangerous weapon demands is revoltingly offensive to everyone.  The mutual shame we as citizens feel for that disrespect and misuse is collective, no matter how high we ride or how low we fall.  Standing out there under the Big Blue Colorado Sky, all of us felt connected by Sharletta Evans as she delivered the keynote speech for the day.  I probably wasn’t the only one who needed to dab their eyes.  I gave her my thanks afterward, and asked her if I could hug her, and she laughed and gave me a huge hug that made up for the ache I felt at her loss and grief.  Grief never actually goes away; it mellows with time and you eventually become used to its ever-present companionship, so feeling the echo of another person’s sorrow awakens your own like feedback through glass.  Sharing hugs with Ms. Evans soothed that echoing feedback down, though, and so did the laughter.  It truly is the best medicine.

The 5280 Survivors had another guest, Ms. Elizabeth Everson.  Her son Jacob was killed when an armed intruder broke into the condo of two young women he was friends with.  He was sleeping in the living room when this strange and violent man burst in, intent on killing 010the two women.  He tried to protect them or stop him, and he died. Ms. Everson volunteered to sit under the pavilion with his picture and tell his story and hers with anyone who wanted to hear, with another volunteer to support her and tell her story also.  Behind her is a screen of ribbons, where each ribbon represents 300 killed by gun violence in Denver and Aurora in 2018. People were encouraged to write the names of loved ones lost by gun violence on red hearts and place it on the screen in memoriam.  We got to share our stories with the ladies at the table, the first time any of us had been able to share publicly what had happened in our home with the gun when I had tried to take my own life.  It was very liberating, letting go of that guilt and shame to another survivor or three that day.  Some of it is still there, and I imagine it always will be.  I hope that guilt and shame never does go away, because that would mean perhaps I stop feeling bad about what I did, and I never want to do that.  I don’t want to flog myself unnecessarily, but I don’t want to be burdened by crushing guilt, either.  I would rather make good changes with my energy than have it eat me alive.  5280 Survivors works very hard to do that, too, and for that, I commend them and am grateful for the work they do.  If you are ever in the Aurora area, give them some love. I know Sharletta Evans would appreciate it.

The past month and my wildly different experiences at these two events got me thinking how necessary it is to stay flexible, be adaptable, keep listening, and work all the time and everywhere on building bridges.  To be industrious and productive and inquisitive always.  I never saw a beaver until I came to Colorado, and the first time I whooped like a plumb idiot in the calm stillness of the blessed mountain sunset and ruined everyone’s peace.  I also scared the tarnation out of the poor beaver.  I tend to get loud when I am overly excited; it’s a character defect I developed later in life that sometimes gets embarrassing.  Nevertheless, I keep going in spite of this defect because I have learned how to adapt to it like building a bridge over a river, just like industrious beavers do.  I have been in the business of building bridges my entire life, because every night I worked very hard to get my parents to build a bridge and talk civilly enough to each other so we could get through the evening and not end up brawling each other.  As a parent I had to build bridges between siblings (and honestly, I had no idea how to do that since I was an only child; I had to make most of it up as I went).  My children taught me a very great deal about building bridges, and because I remember so well how much I hated the way my parents denigrated my generation’s musical tastes, I always listened. Even when I was sick to bloody death of “Shake It Off”.  Even when just the single opening note of “I Will Always Love You” makes me scream inside just as much as anything that has ever come out of Axl Rose’s mouth.  Because once I was knocked unconscious for hours with a J&B bottle when sperm donor heard Run-DMC on the speakers one day.  It was playing on the local alternative radio station, KROQ, but that didn’t matter. Once I’d regained consciousness and received my actual beating and apologised for disobeying the rules of the house, KROQ was banned from the dial.  Therefore, I stay flexible and adapt to whatever comes around.  Unless it actually makes my ears bleed from ruptures, I think it’s going to be ok.  And since I am sure hearing aids are in my near future, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.  Living next to Air Force flight lines and working with power tools for years tends to do more damage to ear parts than music.  Music, aside from the amazing science stuff I linked to at the opening of this article, has therapeutic properties that would fill many articles as a topic.  Music itself is a vast topic.  Humans have been using music to tell tales and connect one to another since the beginning of humans.  I used music here to weave the story together and show how easy it is to relax and let the bridge build itself.  Because a whole bunch of levees have broken all over the place, and we need to build some damn bridges.

When Robert Plant added the lines about Chicago into his remake of “When The Levee Breaks” he meant the role Chicago played in the Civil Rights movement when Martin Luther King, Jr. held multiple marches and rallies against unfair housing as well as segregation in 1966.  It was a hot, hot summer. The poetic layering onto the song successive poet philosophers have put is poignant. I’d really like to see another jazzy blues rendition done by a smooth pair of brown guys for the new roaring twenties, though. That would be just fine.  Just fine indeed.

For immediate help, you can donate to Vox Noire, the phenomenal direct-giving network of the modern-day Robin Hood Creighton Leigh.  This manner of philanthropy allows people like me to give scraps from their budget to grassroots, boots-on-the-ground people who have the passion, energy, and stamina to do what needs to be done.  The smarts on how to do it.  The finesse on how to get it done, and the organisational skills to pull it all together.  She is smart, feisty, has great ethics and is going to be around for a while.  We need a lot more people like her.  For up-to-the-minute direct giving information, follow Creighton on her Facebook page, where she posts most of the information on who she is collecting for and where; she also regularly posts very informative articles, reports, and studies directly relevant to the women and children she is assisting.  Very Good Stuff.  She makes it a point to not only target the specific people in need, but directs her queries for the most assistance to the very people who have historically not provided for that need, or are responsible for the suffering in the first place.  She’s pretty genius.

 

Published by: The Science Witch

Witchery is science, and science is witchery.  My journey through this mortal coil is nothing more than transforming myself from one state to another.  Through that transformation I transform others; I also transform the world around me.  I do this through various means that can be considered arcane: my thoughts transform my very brain by way of electrical currents and chemical signals.  My hands transform my world through the actions of physics and chemistry by way of the magic of cooking and the application of the arcane potions of makeup and hairspray.  My actions nurture or destroy by way of kindness or apathy or discipline.  Of myself or others.  This blog is all about that.  And the story behind how I found all of it out...

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