I Shoot Guns Here

The metaphor of taking aim and the satisfaction of hitting one’s target in the safety of a shooting range are so different than what I would imagine sighting a human being through a scope and creating a void in the universe by taking that person’s life.

My friend Eleece lives in Oklahoma. I was excited for her to take me on my very first shooting adventure. I was open to doing anything else, but this is the one thing I really wanted to do. We went to a range where Eleece and her husband are members, and she brought a few guns and her bag of ammunition. We bought two paper targets, and Eleece let me and Reilly shoot a few rounds from each gun. She taught us how to hold and load the guns and be safe with the safety. We wore earplugs and eye protection. Something about the whole experience was relaxing and exciting at the same time.

Naturally I looked forward to visiting New York City, but I definitely wanted to visit Oklahoma. My dad and his sister live about 80 miles east of Tulsa. My aunt and her husband own dozens of acres of open land, where fish swim and breed in ponds scattered around their property. They catch the fish. They eat the fish. Buddy the dog likes to run in front of the truck that tumbles over the rampant, tall grass. He doesn’t bound quite as high as he did two years ago when I last saw him. But he does seem to eat an entire pack of hot dogs with his usual, efficient flair.

Reilly and I entered my aunt’s trailer, and the television blared Fox News. This aunt loves to give advice and tell stories about her days in northern Arizona, where she held various occupations and caused her share of trouble. The renegade of the siblings, she does whatever she wants but believes the things she believes with more conviction than anyone I know. I found her comparisons of Barack Obama and Hitler rather outlandish and very unconvincing, but she rattled off her theories as if they were truth. If you’re in your 70s and have made choices in the name of unforeseen wisdom, then I won’t mind whatever your political proclivities are.

My stomach sank when my aunt’s husband said how glad he was that we were able to visit, because he thinks this might be the last time I’ll be able to see my dad.

My aunt took us to the assisted living facility where my dad is staying. The dementia seems to be somewhat at bay. He talks far less than he used to, and whenever we talked on the phone in the past year, he’d describe the birds outside his window or how he watches this one particular squirrel scramble about the yard. The difference between having a clear mind and having an empty mind becomes heartbreakingly clear in my dad. My aunt told stories about how he nearly drowned when he was a child, how he had seizures and always had trouble in school. This is so different than my childhood perception of him, but this knowledge helps me to understand him, his passion for cooking that he no longer has, his meticulous cleaning habits that he couldn’t care less about now, because those thoughts never cross his mind anymore. I wonder if he’ll even know what I’m talking about if I tell him I’ve forgiven him for that time when I was 8 and 9 years old. I wonder if it really even matters.

Staring at the television, staring out the window. It scares me to think when his mind will shut off, when the power button on the remote will get pressed and the screen goes blank. Dark.

This growing mental void brings no satisfaction, but a type of grace emerges, makes itself known.

Dad still finds happiness in little things. In simple things. Him being able to walk, even though it’s much more labored with a weak heart and weight gain, and stricken with varicose veins and arthritis. The birds and the squirrels. Him seeing me with my husband. Him being able to tell me in person that he loves me. If hearts are the target and love and understanding are the weapons, then we’re finally becoming sharpshooters. Aiming across a thousand miles at each other, we’re turning into snipers, feeling more alive with every shot.

On Homework

Another semester is well under way. School campuses everywhere teem with eager and already-weary students. Disciples. Learners arrive early in the morning, sit through morning classes with their droning instructors, grab a bag of Corn Nuts or stop by the eatery for a refreshing caffeinated soda, then sit through a round of afternoon classes. Instructors stand in front of their classes appearing to teach. Lectures, they call them. Professors’ voices may penetrate 30-60% of student skulls, depending on attentiveness and head placement relative to the desk. If my head was down during a class, I had every intent of going to sleep. But of course, if I sat upright, that did not guarantee alertness or even consciousness in any way.

After a whole day of classes, students flock to the library or return to their eclectically decorated or otherwise messy apartments to do at least 17 trillion hours of homework. An estimated 2 hours for every credit hour. I came home to read about 100  pages every night from sundry novels that my various English classes assigned. Then I would have to write stuff or think about term papers or work on a group project. Then I’d do my assignments for French, which involved stumble-reading 20-40 pages, writing in a journal, and doing grammar exercises. Three sets of 20, with a 30-second rest between sets. I was up until 1:00 or 2:00 every night, only to wake up four to five hours later for another day.

I understood the importance of homework; I tried to make my brain achieve balance in learning between lectures and homework. On any particular day I had no more than four classes – four hours. But then came the eight hours of homework. Sometimes it felt that all I ever did was homework. But I also tried to make room for a social life and reassured my friends that I still loved them. When I started dating Reilly, I still did homework, which involved a different type of juggling that I wasn’t used to, but I still did the reading and writing and tortuous French grammar études. When I started dating Reilly more seriously, of course I spent more time with him, which meant there was less time to accomplish everything else. I got the same four to five hours of sleep, so it seems homework was compromised.

We got engaged before my last semester, and I knew that I had to restore my discipline if I were to finish well, or at least with my GPA intact. Our relationship had progressed enough, or maybe we were mature enough for him to work on his lesson plans and for me to do homework while we were in the same room. Sure, we would take a break and make out every once in a while, but most of the time we acted like adults with academic focus.

Is it possible to have an academic focus for making out? Admittedly, there were days after school that I had to tell Reilly that I just had to go home and do homework by myself, else all I would do is gaze into his eyes and admire his handsome visage and distract him from lesson plans with little, teasing kisses.

With Reilly’s help and encouragement, I made it through that last semester, and BYU let me graduate, most likely because I had something like 652 credits, 550 of which came from a science major from my early days at BYU before I wised up and changed my major to English. BYU was happy to be rid of me and all my credit-hoarding.

Don’t even get me started on the science homework.

So, I graduated and got married. Then there was no homework. Just like that. No term papers, no French grammar. I read for fun, though. The whole summer. I decided that I would look for a real-life job before summer’s end, and I started working the same week Reilly headed back to teaching. And the nature of my job doesn’t require homework. Sometimes I stay at the office a few extra hours each week, but I never bring work home. Every day, I study, read, write, edit, and revise. I get to work in groups to prepare presentations. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that my job is just like homework, eight hours a day, . . . wait a second.

Academic focus. The differences are that I really like work, and – again – I get to leave it at the office, and I can come home to the best campus ever and do whatever I want, which is usually reading or watching television or fun house projects or surfing the internet or distracting Reilly while he’s creating lesson plans. He’s even entering grades into the computer right now.

I should go kiss him.

It Was on a Tuesday

This particular anniversary seems more significant because it happened on a Tuesday. September 11. Eleven years ago. All those elevens. All those ones.

Individuals.

This poem happened the day after the 10th anniversary. The numbers switch around in that date and today’s date. Two lines are missing, or I’ve debated leaving two lines in, so I don’t think it’s a final draft. I can’t seem to find those lines right now.

Or, there’s just no final draft at all.

It is 9/12/11

nine twelve eleven
nine one-two one-one
as if my fingers
swollen and sweaty
slipped while dialing
and starting over never crossed my mind.

No one will come
until I hang up
and think more carefully
to push
finger pads to keypad
with motions that should be automatic.

All in All, A Very Good Day

Clickr the photo to  get to flickr.

Matt and Karissa got to come to Utah for the very first time, and Moab was a good place to start. I’ve lived in Utah a while, but I hadn’t been to Moab, so we agreed that this would be a good place to meet.

It only took seven or eight years since the last time. And the landscape was totally different last time. Last time was New York City. Little Italy.

But we overheard some Italians during one of our hikes today. So maybe it was almost like last time. I mean, there were skyscrapers, sort of. And we walked Park Avenue.

It’s late, and I’m tired. As you can tell from the photos, the day gave us a lot to do and look at and talk about. The park was relatively busy, but everyone was friendly. Except for the foreign people in the rented RV who said in a rather severe accent and attitude for Matt and Karissa to move their rental car out of the way. I mean, why would you want to bully anyone in one of the most beautiful places on the planet?

It’s great when Reilly’s so willing and excited to meet my friends. And it was wonderful seeing those guys again, catching up, being in nature, seeing pretty stuff. Let’s hope the next time we get together will be a little sooner.