It all looks so easy in the movies.
Trouble arises, and the heroine whips out her weapon from her thigh high stiletto boots, blasts the bad guys and blows the smoke off the barrel without mussing her lipgloss.
But I'm about a hundred degrees of badassery and several pairs of short–shorts shy of Lara Croft, and a 9mm Luger is much heavier in person. This I discovered last Thursday, when a few friends and I gathered at Mission Essential gun range on Abercorn to deflower my trigger finger.
It may seem un–American that I made it to my 40s without firing a gun, especially since I grew up in the wild west, where packing a pistol is as still as de rigeur as it was when Wyatt Earp ruled the roost. They're pretty popular here in Georgia, too, where there's at least one gun in over 40 percent of our neighbors' homes.
(If you live in Kennesaw in Cobb County, there's actually a law on the books that "every head of household residing in the city limits is required to maintain a firearm." Guessing the Jehovah's Witnesses don't pop over unannounced around there so much.)
Having a gun around always makes me think of Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, who commanded that if a gun appears onstage in the first act, it had better be fired by the third. While he was talking about the development of plot, I can't help but apply it to the wisdom that you can't get accidentally shot by your own gun if you don't have one.
I have no issue with exercising one's Constitutional right to bear arms, but am conflicted by the ratcheting debate over gun control. The notion that an armed society is a polite society seems a bitter fallacy as reports of shootings flow into the headlines every day. But increased incidents also offer proof that I might one day be confronted with the necessity of using a gun to protect myself or my loved ones.
The thought terrifies me.
But nothing is more empowering than information and experience. So I decided to take up Mission Essential's offer of free gun rental and range time to women on Thursday Ladies' Night, which fortunately for those of us in the carpool set, starts at noon.
Our posse was far more subdued than usual as we took over two lanes in the shooting range. I clustered with St. Claire Mars, Girl Scout Troop leader and summer camp sharpshooting champion, and Thinking Moms Revolution co–founder Kim Spencer, a veteran of many a childhood Statesboro coonhunt. The others, Rebecca Freeman and Natasha Gaskill, had taken a break from baking cheesecakes for Lulu's Chocolate Bar to come on over to the southside, sharing tales of "target practice in the woods, with a shotgun. And beer."
But while my BFFs had wielded rifles at one time or another, they had about as much experience using handguns as I did. As I loaded up the Smith & Wesson, my knees shook with the cold, mean reality of it.
Sweat trickled into my protective ear and eyewear as I pushed bullet after bullet into the magazine like a lethal PEZ dispenser. Though I had lived this moment plenty in my imagination (where I also fly my own invisible plane), I almost vomited with fear that I would — and could — do something irreversibly stupid.
Stalling, I looked down to the line to see an elderly woman aiming into the cavern littered with brass casings.
"I tried the .22 last week, but this one has more kick," she informed the instructor standing with her.
A mother and her teenage daughter took turns in lane four, easily shoving in the magazine like the detectives on Law & Order: SVU. Further down, a baby boomer couple made short work of a human–shaped target, shredding the head and chest areas within minutes. No one was smiling, which I found relieving. It seems to me that playing with guns should always be serious business.
Finally, I pushed in the clip and gingerly pulled back the chamber. I lined up the sights with one of five small bull's eyes 21 feet out. Holding on tight with both hands, I let my index finger click down. Boom.
The 9mm is known for its easy recoil. An acrid smell filled my nose, a cross between burnt metal and dog breath. I exhaled, gently put down the gun and backed away as my ladies clapped me on the back.
"That's great, you hit the inside black at the bottom left!"
I didn't tell them I was aiming for the middle.
We traded off until St. Claire shot the zip tie off the clothespin holding the target in place and someone had to come fix it. Natasha and Rebecca shot with a .22 Beretta, intimidatingly huge but easier to wield. By our third box of ammunition, we could fill the PEZ dispenser pretty quickly and put holes in the circles we were actually aiming for. But the air of sobriety never lifted, and I returned my gun and gear as ambivalent as ever.
Over a cheeseburger at the Huddle House, we mothers mulled over how guns might become an inextricable part of our future, like it or not.
"I think every child should have to learn gun safety," opined St. Claire. "Guns are scary, but they're here. Wouldn't you want them to be safe?"
Kim shrugged. "Maybe. But I can't help but think you invite the possibility of violence when you bring guns into you life."
I had to agree with both of them: No denying that there are good reasons for owning a gun, and certainly for knowing how to shoot one. Yet packing heat doesn't necessarily make me feel safer. Chekhov and all that.
I'm glad to have spent an afternoon at the gun range with the powerful, smart women in my life who would protect my family and me, as I would them and theirs.
But outside of the worst of circumstances, my weapon of choice will always remain words: To implore us all to remain civil and strong in the face of fear.
In my house, we dig art in any form, especially when we make it ourselves.
Whether it involves painting on the walls, frontal nudity, earsplitting chants in minor keys, Ziploc bags full of pinecones taped to a headless Barbie or all of the above, we support each other's creative expression.
So when I announced that I would be performing poetry, my family was all ears. They pulled up chairs to the kitchen counter where I was stirring spaghetti sauce and waited expectantly, upturned faces in hands.
"No, no, not right NOW. On Sunday night. In public."
I explained that I had been invited to close out the PULSE Art + Technology Festival at the Jepson with a group of other writers and artists. My kids were deeply impressed, mostly because I told them there would be a room–sized Ms. PacMan game across the hall.
My husband, normally my most enthusiastic poetry groupie, gave me a pained look.
"You know that's the Super Bowl, right?"
I did, but did he know that this was no ordinary poetry reading? This was Blank Page Poetry: Words & Shadows, which projects performers' silhouettes onto a screen 20 feet tall! There isn't a TV that big at any sports bar! And unlike some football game, there would be no commercial interruptions!
My dear husband sighed and continued to help our daughter duct tape a pyramid of carefully–arranged toilet paper rolls.
A concept developed by artist and Indigo Sky Community Gallery founder Jerome Meadows, Blank Page plumbs new depths of word– and shadowplay, switching up what you thought you knew about poetry.
Playing on PULSE's techy theme, Jerome asked an eclectic amalgam of literary locals to explore "the interface between the onslaught of ever–evolving technological advancements and the human condition."
Y'know, easy stuff.
But that's what's so cool about poetry. When it doesn't get too lost in its own navel-gazing, it's a transdimensional shortcut to Big Ideas, no peyote necessary.
The invitees took the assigned topic and ran like the quarterback just handed them the ball: Catherine Killingsworth, executive director of the afterschool writing program DEEP, pierced the cold space of where the deceased live on through Facebook. Savannah Stage Company actor Brian Pridgen spoke from the "always connected purgatory" where we enjoy little of the intimacy and none of the privacy of the past. His theater colleague Liz Whittemore longed for the long–gone days of party lines and pen pals.
Along with an ode to the "boot black" telephones of yore and poignant fist–shaking at Big Brother, Jane Fishman succinctly captured the assigned topic with an oblique reference to the universal terror of dropping one's iPhone in the potty.
Fans of the Artist Normally Known as KidSyc should know that his rhymes need no beat to pack punch: Lloyd Harold continued the existential explorations with the hollowness of birthday wishes posted on a non–existent wall along with the ultimate question for our times: "Seriously, Siri?"
And then there was our esteemed ringleader and benevolent puppetmaster Jerome, who addressed the indignity of seeking true connection in 140 characters while singing "just Tweet it" à la Michael Jackson.
I unearthed a poem I wrote a very long time ago, when the Internet was still a series of tubes. The only cellular telephone I had even seen was a heavy brick that my gadget–crazy dad hauled around in its own purse. As a college student, I had heard rumors of the flood of information to come, and I remember believing it would level the socioeconomic stratosphere, opening up a world "where everyone has the right to know everything."
Of course, that was before I understood that "everything" included amateur porn and eleven million pictures of cats with moustaches.
As his vision collated, Jerome arranged the line–up along with Indigo Sky gallery manager Lauren Flotte, who also handled the technical details by projecting certain phrases on the screen as each of us recited behind the "blank page." There were several rehearsals involved, and in spite of disparate personalities and writing styles, there was a marked absence of any diva weirdness that sometimes accompanies group projects. (Well, I will admit to making inappropriate shadow puppets and having to be gently talked down from wearing a shamanic headdress so my shadow would look like a goat.)
Threaded together with skillful staging by Savannah Stage Company's Jayme Tinti and musician Daniel Hosher's ambient tones, our words and shadows became more than the sum of their parts. In addressing the unsatisfying nature of digital connectivity and the plea to be valued as more than our status updates, we had transcended that modern illness by participating together in something that required our physical presence. For a few short weeks, we exchanged the tap–tap–tapping of our thumbs for our breath.
It felt valuable and meaningful. I couldn't wait for everyone to come see the performance.
But most people I told about it leveled that same arched eyebrow.
"You know it's the Super Bowl, right?"
Still, on Sunday at 6 p.m., a good half of the house was filled with loved ones and friends, notably loyal local art supporter Bobbi Perry and yes, my uncomplaining family, elated from a long PacMan session.
As I stood in the wings of the Jepson auditorium waiting for production assistant Kayla Cloonan to give me the "you're on" signal, it occurred to me that part of what makes something art is a concept's ability to create an authentic collective experience essential to the human condition.
Art and poetry are always attempting to foster these real connections and shared experiences, but is it possible that a football game can create the same satisfaction as viewing an odd sculpture of materials reclaimed from the recycling bin or a poetry reading in shadow?
I continued to ponder this as we headed home after the show, seeing cars lining our block for our neighbors' multiple Super Bowl parties. We hit the couch just in time for the halftime show, and roaring in unison over that pass interference penalty that should have been called on Baltimore, I figured all connections are good connections.
I'm OK that poetry will never be as popular as football or as crazysexy as Beyonce.
Then again, it will never blow a fuse and leave everyone in the dark.
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"And you deserve better."
Thanks, Jim, for my new campaign slogan.