Why Guns are Fun in American Society

With all of the recent publicity about escalating gun violence in the United States, and proposals for and against legislation to moderate this, I’ve been thinking about the attraction that people have for guns, and why it is that legislation alone will never work to solve this problem. 

 

I grew up with guns. My dad and uncles had them, and mostly they were used for hunting when we lived in northern California. When I was little, I used to play with toy pistol cap guns that would make a popping sound when the tape was rolled into them [1]. During the summers, my cousins and I would shoot each other with water pistols, some shaped like Uzi submachine guns that would repeat fire when the trigger was held down, and you could even add red food coloring so that it looked like blood! When I was ten, I wanted nothing more than my very own BB gun, just like the kid in The Christmas Story [2], which I finally got when I was ten. I was also given a BB gun pistol with chrome plating, which looked just like a real gun like in the movies, which was fascinating; it was totally impractical and completely useless for anything, but it looked real, and that was all that mattered to me. I could pretend to shoot bad guys with it, just like I saw in the movies. When I was thirteen, I was given a 20 gage shotgun, which I learned how to disassemble clean and use, and this is the gun that I used to shoot myself in the head when I was fourteen. 

 

Guns were first introduced in the Americas when European conquistadors and settlers arrived to populate them, which were used for hunting, protection, and to kill the natives [3]. Guns have been an intrinsic part of American civilization ever since. They were needed to win the American Revolution [4]. They were needed to populate the western migration of settlers into the lesser populated regions of America [5]; protecting homesteads from natural predators and to maintain some semblance of order for communities as well as hunting for food. They were needed for Americans to kill each other during the Civil War [6]. They were needed during the Wild West for law enforcement [7]. In the early 1900’s, Thompson submachine guns could conveniently be purchased by mail order or from the local hardware or sporting goods store [8], then law enforcement needed guns to protect themselves from criminals who owned Thompson submachine guns. And so on, throughout American history. 

 

There is a part of human nature that has always been violent, but as part of modern civilization, we should be able to overcome this. So why is the problem only getting worse? It’s not just the easy availability of guns, but a combination of many factors. 

 

One large factor is the entertainment industry. 

 

As early as the beginning of the 1900’s, there has been a cultural fascination with American criminal folk heroes, including the Sundance Kid [9], Billy the Kid [10], and Bonnie and Clyde [11], plus violent counterparts such as Doc Holliday [12] and Wyatt Earp [13]; which many movies have been made to depict. The role of the Mafia has equally been glorified in American entertainment as well [14], including such movies as The Godfather and shows such as The Sopranos. The same is true for the depiction of inner city gang violence in American culture [15]. 

 

This is true for the music industry as well, which started to become more prevalent in the 1990’s with the popularity of some edge Rap performers pushing the envelope. One such was the release of Cop Killer by Ice-T [16]. Additionally, the use of violent and misogynistic lyrics in popular Rap and Hip-Hop songs since the early 2000’s have been tied to a rise in physical abuse since that time [17]. 

 

This is also true for the video game industry, where violence and crime against people in some games earns points and rewards. In a recent study, it was proven that children and young adults who play violent video games have much more difficulty exercising self-control [18], including such popular games as Grand Theft Auto, where it was possible to steal cars, have sex with a prostitute then kill her afterwards to get their money back, and kill police officers to gain additional points. In 2013, Guinness World Records announced: “Guinness World Records can today confirm that the launch of Grand Theft Auto V has broken six new world records including the Highest revenue generated by an entertainment product in 24 hours and the Fastest entertainment property to gross $1 billion.” [19]. 

 

A second large factor is the growth of narcissism in American society. 

 

In a recent FAQ regarding The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement [20], it states: 

 

“We know that narcissism has increased over time among individuals based on several datasets. College students now endorse more narcissistic traits than college students did in the 1980s and 1990s; in one large sample the change seemed to be accelerating after 2002. An Internet sample of the general population also showed higher narcissism scores among younger people than older people. Perhaps most disturbing, a 2005 study using a large, randomly selected sample of Americans found that nearly 1 out of 10 people in their twenties had experienced NPD – the more severe, clinical-level form of the trait. Only 1 out of 30 people over 64 had experienced NPD in their lifetime – even though they had lived 40 more years than the people in their twenties and thus had that much more time to experience the disorder. This suggests a large increase in NPD over time.” 

 

“The Narcissism Epidemic covers a broad range of cultural symptoms, including increases in materialism, entitlement, public violence and aggression, self-promotion, and the desire for uniqueness.” 

 

In an article published in 2010 by Psychology Today, titled Shocker: Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000 [21], it states: 

 

“College students who hit campus after 2000 have empathy levels that are 40% lower than those who came before them, according to a stunning new study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science by University of Michigan researchers. It includes data from over 14,000 students.” 

 

“Worse, much of the time that used to be spent playing outdoors is now spent in front of screens. Television, obviously cannot teach empathy. Even nonviolent kids’ TV, research finds, is filled with indirect aggression and linked to increased real-world bullying.” 

 

A third large factor is dark propaganda in American society. 

 

The concept of propaganda has existed within all societies for as long as societies have existed. In The Story of Propaganda by the American Historical Association [22], it states: 

 

“In peacetime the promotional activities of democratic governments usually consist of making the citizens aware of the services offered by a given department and of developing popular support for the policies with which the department is concerned. The purpose is to make these services “come alive” to the everyday citizen, and in the long run official information and promotion tend to make the average man more conscious of his citizenship. If the public is interested in the work done in its name and in its behalf, intelligent public criticism of governmental services can be stimulated.” 

 

The dark side of propaganda however, can corrupt the minds of a society. In an article titled Enemy Propaganda by the American Historical Association [23], it states: 

 

“Hitler is the arch propagandist of our time. These are examples of his strategy in attempting to mold the opinions and attitudes of his intended victims to his own purposes. Division, doubt, and fear are the weapons he uses within one nation and among Allied countries arrayed against him. His purpose is summed up in his own phrase-to sow “mental confusion, contradiction. of feeling, indecision, panic.” ” 

 

This tactic is alive and well in America, and with the ever present availability of online news resources and social media, dark propaganda can easily be spread to millions instantly. 

 

In a recent article titled Beware of the online war of propaganda by USC News [24], it states: 

 

“As more people get news from social media, the spread of misinformation is a risk.” 

 

“The growing popularity of social media raises all sorts of questions about online security. According to a recent Twitter SEC filing, approximately 8.5 percent of all users on Twitter are bots – fake accounts used to produce automated posts. While some of these accounts have commercial purposes, others are influence bots used to generate opinions about a certain topic.” 

 

This concept is important, as noted in an article titled Media’s Use of Propaganda to Persuade People’s Attitude, Beliefs and Behaviors by Stanford University [25], where it states: 

 

“As a result of our increasing sophistication and to build our civilization, we have created and environment so complex, so fast-paced, and information-laden, that we must increasingly deal with it in the fashion of the animals we long ago transcended. Thus, from the case studies on how the media uses propaganda, we can understand that the media does more than presentation facts and information. The media has the ability to exploit persuasive tactics to the specific definition of propaganda: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person. Indeed, as we have shown, this does not have to be the “in your face,” World War II propaganda. Instead, the presentation is subtle and unaware to the untrained eye, so that even slight difference in the presentation can help change contextual understanding.” 

 

The spreading of false news is a prime example of this type of propaganda, the danger of which is illustrated in a recent personal account titled Fox News – Clear and Present Danger to America [26]. 

 

“These are people who I used to have spirited but intelligent political discussions with. That’s gone now. Those people are gone.” 

 

“In all other ways, they remain competent, functioning adults. My mom still works, they both are very computer-literate and active. Yet they believed that Dearborn, Michigan was under Sharia law. They believe that Planned Parenthood is selling baby parts for profit. They believe our President is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist.” 

 

As part of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we enjoy freedom of speech. This is a critical asset for a democracy. However, there is a dark side to this, because many people in our society will believe anything if it sounds like news. 

 

This was exploited by William Randolph Hearst in the late 1800’s as noted in his biography [27]: 

 

“The Daily Examiner became young Hearst’s laboratory, where he gained a talent for         making fake news and faking real news in such a way as to create maximum         public shock.” 

 

The same tactics are being used today to spread false news to millions through the Internet. This can be observed in an article titled NASA Confirms Earth Will Experience 15 Days Of Complete Darkness in November 2015 by NewsWatch33 [28]: 

 

“WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEWSWATCH33) – NASA has confirmed that the Earth will experience 15 days of total darkness between November 15 and November 29, 2015. The event, according to NASA, hasn’t occurred in over 1 Million years.” 

 

As opposed to an article titled Earth to face a 6-day blackout, viral hoax cites NASA as saying by RT [29]: 

 

“The original report was   published on a satirical news site Huzlers.com, citing NASA   administrator Charles Bolden as the source.” 

 

“Bolden’s emergency preparedness video was taken out of context to   add weight to the report.” 

 

“When viewed as a whole, however, it becomes clear that Bolden was   discussing emergency preparedness in case of an earthquake or   hurricane, in order to help US families to be ready for such   scenarios.” 

 

“Still, many people reacted in panic, as the story went viral on   Twitter.” 

 

The spreading of dark propaganda through seemingly trustworthy news sources is very dangerous for American society, because this constitutes an abuse of our freedom of speech, and spreads malcontent and divisiveness where there should be none. 

 

A fourth large factor is population growth and economic disparities. 

 

According to the Population Clock from the United States Census Bureau [30], there is a net gain of one person every thirteen seconds. With this constant population growth in mind, the division of economic disparities in the United States is literally growing wider every minute of every hour every day. 

 

In a recent article by Scientific American titled Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think [31], it states: 

 

“According to Pew Research, most Americans believe the economic system unfairly favors the wealthy, but 60% believe that most people can make it if they’re willing to work hard.” 

 

“In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” The findings of three studies, published over the last several years in Perspectives on Psychological Science, suggest that Rock is right. We have no idea how unequal our society has become.” 

 

“The average American believes that the richest fifth own 59% of the wealth and that the bottom 40% own 9%. The reality is strikingly different. The top 20% of US households own more than 84% of the wealth, and the bottom 40% combine for a paltry 0.3%. The Walton family, for example, has more wealth than 42% of American families combined.” 

 

The results of this are discussed in an article by Fortune titled Wealth inequality in the U.S. is 10 times worse than income inequality [32], where it states: 

 

“Furthermore, there’s reason to believe that such levels of inequality can have even worse consequences. The late historian Tony Judt addressed these effects in Ill Fares the Land, a book on the consequences of the financial crisis, writing:” 

 

“There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility: in contrast to their parents and grandparents, children today in the UK as in the US have very little expectation of improving upon the condition into which they were born. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage for the overwhelming majority translates into ill health, missed educational opportunity, and-increasingly-the familiar symptoms of depression: alcoholism, obesity, gambling, and minor criminality.” 

 

“In other words, there’s evidence that rising inequality and many other intractable social problems are related. Not only is rising inequality bad for business, it’s bad for society, too.” 

 

A fifth large factor is the mental health of those effected by all of these factors and the impact of stress on the human psyche. 

 

In an article by World of Psychology titled How Stress Affects Mental Health [33], it states: 

 

“Chronic stress increases the risk of developing health problems including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a weakened immune system. Chronic stress also affects a person’s mental health. Many studies show a correlation between stress and the development of mood disorders such as anxiety disorders and depression.” 

 

“According to the American Psychological Association’s latest stress survey, 66 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress, and 63 percent experience psychological symptoms.” 

 

“Previous research has found physical differences in the brains of people with stress disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and those without. One of the main distinctions is that the ratio of the brain’s white matter to gray matter is higher in those with stress-related mental disorders compared to those without.” 

 

“This study shows that the oligodendrocyte cells might play a key role in long-term changes to the brain that could lead to mental health problems. The researchers also believe that the stem cells which, due to chronic stress, are becoming myelin-producing cells rather than neurons, affect cognitive function, because it is the neurons that process and transmit the electrical information necessary for learning and memory skills.” 

 

So to conclude, it’s not just an overabundance of guns in America that are to blame for social violence, nor is it simply the lack of sufficient legislation, but rather a combination of all of these factors that continue to negatively affect our society. 

 

This also includes children, as illustrated recently when an eleven year old boy in Tennessee fatally shot an eight year old girl when she refused to show him her puppy using his father’s shotgun [34]. 

 

We in American society are becoming desensitized to violence by constantly being bombarded by it [35]. We watch it on television and in movies, we play video games where we earn points for doing it, we listen to music that promotes it, we as children are raised with war games that emulate it using fake weapons to do it, and we as human beings are learning not to care anymore. 

 

Violence has always existed in all societies around the world since the beginning of humanity, which seems to indicate that this is a fundamental aspect of human nature. However, human beings also have the capacity to be compassionate and empathetic as part of a cohesive society. This is why as intelligent beings we can exercise free will and choose not to be violent. 

 

What needs to be addressed, are all of the factors that lead up to violence in our society. One clue to this is rather simple, happy and well-adjusted people are typically not violent. This is because they have no reason to be. 

 

Personally, I don’t know how many of these factors played a part in my childhood. I do know that my favorite movie that summer was The Crow [36] starring Brandon Lee, who died during production from an accidental gunshot wound on the set. It wasn’t until years later that I realized why I liked the movie so much. I’m a romantic, and the provocative darkness portrayed in the film appealed to a darkness within me that I didn’t have the experience needed to properly understand. My favorite song at that time was The Unforgiven, by Metallica [37]. So, for a variety of reasons leading up to the end of that summer in 1994, I decided to end my life.  

 

The presence of guns in the house made this decision much easier. Even if they were not present though, it would not have changed my decision, though the outcome would have been different. To be perfectly honest, if a person really wants to end their life, they will find a way to do so no matter what tools are available. 

 

At the time, it never occurred to me to harm anybody else other than myself, physically at any rate. The idea of harming innocents is totally alien to me, and I don’t understand it. At some point though, the practice of murder suicide has become popular for some twisted reason, and this is reflected in all of the mass shootings that we’ve witnessed in recent years. In the early 1990’s, this was even depicted in the music video Jeremy, by Pearl Jam [38]. 

 

I’ll end this here with this last thought, even though the lack of access to guns would not really make a difference for a person who truly wishes to take their own life, a lack of guns would make it much more difficult for such a person to take the lives of innocents at the same time. 

 

Also, the multiple factors that lead up to violence in the first place, must be addressed in our society if we are going to have any hope for the future.

 

References

1. History Of The Toy Gun
http://ezinearticles.com/?History-Of-The-Toy-Gun&id=5370607
2. A Christmas Story (1983) – IMDb
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085334/
3. Epic World History: Conquest of Central America
http://epicworldhistory.blogspot.com/2012/07/conquest-of-central-america.html
4. Revolutionary War Timeline
http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/revwartimeline.htm
5. Westward Expansion – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com
http://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion
6. A Brief Overview of the American Civil War
http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/civil-war-overview/overview.html
7. Cowboys – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com
http://www.history.com/topics/cowboys
8. Thompson Submachine Gun
http://www.auto-ordnance.com/ao-thompson-submachine-gun.asp
9. Sundance Kid – Thief – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/sundance-kid-9499214#early-years
10. Billy the Kid – Criminal – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/billy-the-kid-278971#early-life
11. Bonnie and Clyde – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/groups/bonnie-and-clyde
12. Doc Holliday – Criminal, Folk Hero – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/doc-holliday-9342122
13. Wyatt Earp – Law Enforcement – Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/people/wyatt-earp-9283338#synopsis
14. Why Hollywood is married to the mob
http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/why-hollywood-is-married-to-the-mob-20100913-158dl.html
15. Drugs, Violence and the Street: The Top 10 Gang Movies of the ’90s – SundanceTV
http://www.sundance.tv/blog/2015/03/drugs-violence-and-the-street-the-top-10-gang-movies-of-the-90s
16. ‘Cop Killer’ controversy | EW.com
http://www.ew.com/article/1992/12/25/cop-killer-controversy
17. The Influence of Rap and Hip-Hop Music: An Analysis on Audience Perceptions of Misogynistic Lyrics – JournalQuest
http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/792/the-influence-of-rap-and-hip-hop-music-an-analysis-on-audience-perceptions-of-misogynistic-lyrics?ab=ad-above&utm_expid=22625156-1.5tC6-gkOQEG4cY5MGWGX_A.1
18. Violent video games decrease self-control | Psychology Today
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/get-psyched/201401/violent-video-games-decrease-self-control
19. Confirmed: Grand Theft Auto 5 breaks 6 sales world records | Guinness World Records
http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2013/10/confirmed-grand-theft-auto-breaks-six-sales-world-records-51900/
20. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement – Book
http://www.narcissismepidemic.com/aboutbook.html
21. Shocker: Empathy Dropped 40% in College Students Since 2000 | Psychology Today
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/born-love/201005/shocker-empathy-dropped-40-in-college-students-2000
22. The Story of Propaganda
https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/the-story-of-propaganda
23. Enemy Propaganda
https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/enemy-propaganda
24. Beware of the online war of propaganda | USC News
https://news.usc.edu/82853/beware-of-the-war-of-propaganda-taking-place-online/
25. Media’s Use of Propaganda to Persuade People’s Attitude, Beliefs and Behaviors
http://web.stanford.edu/class/e297c/war_peace/media/hpropaganda.html
26. Fox News – Clear and Present Danger to America
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2015/10/09/1429662/-Fox-News-Clear-and-Present-Danger-to-America?detail=facebook
27. William Randolph Hearst Biography – life, death, history, wife, school, mother, young, son, old, information, born
http://www.notablebiographies.com/Gi-He/Hearst-William-Randolph.html
28. NASA Confirms Earth Will Experience 15 Days Of Complete Darkness in November 2015 | NewsWatch33
https://newswatch33.com/science/nasa-confirms-earth-will-experience-15-days-of-complete-darkness-in-november-2015/
29. Earth to face a 6-day blackout, viral hoax cites NASA as saying – RT USA
https://www.rt.com/usa/200279-nasa-darkness-hoax-debunked/
30. Population Clock
http://www.census.gov/popclock/
31. Economic Inequality: It’s Far Worse Than You Think – Scientific American
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/economic-inequality-it-s-far-worse-than-you-think/
32. Wealth inequality in the U.S. is 10 times worse than income inequality – Fortune
http://fortune.com/2014/10/31/inequality-wealth-income-us/
33. How Stress Affects Mental Health | World of Psychology
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/02/25/how-stress-affects-mental-health/
34. 11-year-old charged with murder in Tennessee 8-year-old’s death – CBS News
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/boy-11-charged-with-murder-in-tennessee-8-year-olds-death/
35. Desensitizing the Mind to Violence – Dave Grossman, Author
http://www.killology.com/art_trained_methods.htm
36. The Crow (1994) – IMDb
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109506/
37. Metallica – The Unforgiven (Video) – YouTube

38. Pearl Jam – Jeremy (Official Video) – YouTube

The Hourglass

I gazed with rapt attention at
the object borne to me alas
by fortuity or fate.

Boundless bourns, wherein constraints
of time did not pertain,
becalmed all force of will within
enchantments cast unknown therein
by lands in sandy waves.

The souls of all who passed before
the turning of this place of yore
from fertileness to waste,
whispered ever nigh across,
and through the weathered hulks of lost
kingdoms in their wake.

One last fortress remained therein
to guard this realm, beset within
by the strifes of ancient folk.
One last bastion yet unchecked
by the turning tides of fate to rest
in lonesome solitude.

The storms that swept across these lands
in days of old, where bells foretold
of prophecies to come and pass,
filled the depths of leafless gutters
and empty streets with arid sands.

Within the age portending such,
where heedless hearts began to clutch
the tempests yet unwoven,
dwelt miracles in gilded halls.
Dreams in waking, never failing
to leave their charges thus enthralled.

These raptures however, in the turning,
could not stand the ever swirling
mists of time, and fearing such,
fled to armored keeps instead;
to be forgotten, one by one,
till all had been undone.

Only the whispering sands can now be heard,
whenever stirred by the restless wind’s caress;
as only the rumble of ancient works
can still be felt, disconcerting from nighted halls,
where great machines run on and on
far beneath the earth.

Could I divine the ages hence,
and beholding fate, determine whence
that time may come again,
I would comply for peace of mind,
though galaxies may rise and fall
and twilight may descend.

(Bryan Garaventa, 2003)

From an Ember Wrought

So the ghosts of our past hold the keys to our heart,
and pay their respects with pain…
An injustice of memory perhaps,
yet what else is there to blame?

Though universally felt, the embers of love
(including the ensuing torments thereof),
may not be entirely delved;
spanning time with arches of fire, it cannot be quelled.

With just one spark; one instance of recognition
to fan desire, the soul is stripped to an aching heart.

As an ember exists amidst the flames,
so too may love have love contained:
One for what was, and will never be-
And one for what is, made radiant
by the wisdom of time and sanctity.

Would be simpler perhaps, understanding fate..,
the hammering of experience on the anvil of our lives
as the forging of our spirit takes place.

“To what end?” I ask, as I shake my head.
For what purpose do we struggle to comprehend?

(Bryan Garaventa, 2001)

Dust Motes by Starlight

I saw it fall from the mist enthralled,
a remnant cast from a lover’s call
long ago, in a  place unknown.

It glimmered, and lightly shone
in the starlight cast from a night alone
in the untold leagues of  solitude.

It might have been a letter rudely
written to a lover shrewdly
awaiting far below.

It might have been  a feather slowly
floating ever down to show me
utter grace within its form.

It might have been a piece torn
from a  gown, to lie forlorn
within the dust yet nigh among.

It might have been a spirit shunned
from paradise, and falling stunned
to lay enduring fell unrest.

It might have been a dove bereft
of life, as in falling left
the courtship of its  mate.

It might have been a prayer too late
uttered from a soul forsaken
by the powers that be above.

Or perhaps, it  might have been true love.

But who am I to lapse
into such conjecturing
as this which I amass?

And yet, even so,
it was laden with intent;
deeply falling into the mist enthralled;
shining brighter as it went,
like a star from hell to heaven.

(Bryan Garaventa, 2002)

Why life is like a story by T.C. Boyle

Sometimes I find myself thinking about my past experiences, as well as those of others throughout my life, and I’ve come to the realization that the majority of what a person sees in any situation, is purely subjective. As with Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, reality for us is only what we perceive like shadows projected on the wall, and, as with any perception, these always change based on the angle of how we see them.

Personal choice plays a huge part in this too, because we can consciously choose to see things in different ways based on how we feel about them. We can for example ignore concepts and ideas that we don’t agree with; truths that we choose not to accept as facts despite available proofs; events that we choose not to see or hear because they threaten our beliefs of how things ought to be, and we can choose to remain ignorant despite the availability of certain knowledge.

We can also choose to do the opposite, and embrace the absurdity of life and how these events shape us into who we are as individuals. This is how life is like a story by T.C. Boyle, in which our conscious perceptions can be used to explore the possibilities in any given situation. We can then choose to see these events in a new light.

For example, I was born in a small town in northern California called Ukiah, which is Haiku spelled backwards in case you didn’t know. My mom and dad were born and raised there too, and my grandpa on my dad’s side was a farmer there back when farms consisted of the majority of the township.

My mom always loved animals, even as a kid, and would bring them home every chance she got. There was a duck that she adopted that lived in my grandma’s swimming pool, which would come back every summer after migrating for the winter. She had tons of cats too, and there was one cat whose tail my grandma always accidentally closed the door on when letting it out. One day the cat was lying on the floor and my grandma went to let it out, and the cat got up and left the room, but the tail stayed behind having fallen off. I remember when I was little, maybe about five or so, waking in the morning and sleepily looking down to the end of my bed where my feet stuck up, and seeing a lump moving around down there and it wasn’t me doing it. Thus screaming I was introduced to the baby possum my mom brought home, which had escaped during the night.

I used to love building things in my grandma’s backyard. She had this really cool shed filled with all sorts of carpenter tools that used to be my grandpa’s, and I would get the idea to build something and go to town with hammers and nails and saws until I had built something; whatever it was. I built a boomerang that really curved when thrown so that it could go around corners; I can still remember the sound of breaking glass when it did that. I built a raft out of wood planks with a big pole sticking up with a flag so I could be a pirate sailing on the seas of fortune and launched it on its maiden voyage in my grandma’s swimming pool. When I came back the next day, my raft was gone, and my grandma said that a huge storm had come during the night and blew it away, and I remember thinking, WOW, I wish I could have seen that! I remember the horrified expression on the gardeners face as I shot my rubber band powered crossbow into the tree from across the yard while pretending to be a great hunter on safari in Africa. My grandma used to have an apple tree in her backyard, and in the autumn the rotten apples would fall off and make a mess around the tree, so she offered me a nickel for every ten apples I was able to gather for her to clean them up. I thought, what an awesome deal! So the next time my grandma came out to see what I was up to, she saw me at the age of nine hanging upside down from the apple tree shaking it has hard as I could like a monkey in an effort to help the loose ones decide to fall.

I always had a weirdly vivid imagination. I used to get in trouble for it in school. I remember sitting in class daydreaming about epic space battles and inventions that I wanted to create, and I would leave the class after the bell rang trying to remember what the teacher had been going on and on about. When I was in sixth grade, I was caught up so thoroughly in the imaginary space battle going on over my teacher’s head, which I was the gunner of my own ship and using my pen to aim and blast my power cannon at enemy ships zooming around her ears, that it took me several moments to realize that I was actually pointing my pen like a pistol at her head and making all of the zooming and blaster noises complete with the explosion sounds of enemy spaceships, and that everybody was staring at me. I used to spend a lot of time sitting in the hall for some reason.

When I was thirteen, I remember trying to impress a girl while on a camping trip with my cousins in the redwoods of northern California, where I would try to catch water snakes in the river with my hands thinking I could do it fast enough to catch them behind the head so I wouldn’t get bitten. When I was, I spasmed in response and the snake flew up about fifty feet before practically landing on my cousin’s head. It was okay though, he had it coming… When we had first arrived to the campsite there was a fire pit that had a smoldering log from the prior campers, and we had the bright idea to coax the flame back into life. So as I was blowing into the pit and wafting  the air trying to do this, he threw a cup of white gasoline in front of me causing a fireball to go up about twenty feet which blew off my eyebrows.

After losing my sight when I was fourteen, I went through a series of exciting experiences with seemingly homicidal nurses and demented doctors, which went on for some years before I ended up at the California School for the Blind; where a new interesting chapter of my life began. I don’t know how it is now, but back then it was a strange place where weird things would happen that weren’t likely to happen anywhere else. There was a little blind boy who used to like to suck on his prosthetic eye during commuter flights back home, and when unsuspecting stewardesses would come up and say “aren’t you a cute little boy”, he would smile at them revealing the eye. I remember talking with one girl who thought she was an exiled princess from Russia. There was a blind couple who attempted to have sex on the front lawn of the school under the mistaken belief that if they couldn’t see others then others couldn’t see them. The California School for the Deaf was adjacent to the school for the blind, and the deaf kids would tell bloodcurdling tales about the blind gangs that roamed the deserted school grounds at night with their bloody canes and attack guide dogs. I was very happy when I finally graduated high school.

I then started my higher education at the College of Notre Dame in Belmont California, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I majored in Political Science. By my second year, I realized two important things, one, I couldn’t stand the idea of becoming a lawyer, and two, this new Technology Field thing sounded really cool. I had a computer by then, and it was totally awesome, I could press buttons and it would do stuff! The path of my future was set. About the same time, my fiancé was working at a local non-profit for the homeless, and one of the donators was a little startup company in Redwood City called Napster. So one day, Shawn Fanning and Debbie (who later became a friend and attended our wedding) came in to donate some things for the shelter, and Cristina was telling them that I wanted to learn more about the computer field, and asked if they had any ideas. So Debbie said, have him call me, he can intern with us. I dropped out of college, and went to Napster for the interview a month later. This was in February of 2001, when things were still ramping up.

To be perfectly honest, the interview did not go well. Back then, I was painfully shy; often to the point that I would freeze up if anybody addressed me directly. Part of this was because I looked different based on the nature of my injuries, and I had a total lack of professional experience to draw upon. So, when I was asked during the interview, “can you tell me what skills you have?”, I thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t think I have any”. I’d like to think they offered me a position because they saw qualities within me that I didn’t have the ability to recognize at the time, but in truth, they were probably just being nice. So began my not-so auspicious career in the Technology field. To this day, I have never gotten a job that I have ever applied for. The only ones I have, were the ones I didn’t apply for. I guess I just don’t interview well.

Those were exciting times for Napster, since they were in the process of getting sued by practically every band and music industry organization in the world. The Redwood City office was an old industrial building with an open floor plan, and every morning towards the end, an announcement would be made, “Okay folks! Today we’re getting sued by … !” The list of names was usually fairly long. I stayed with them till the last day, when we all packed up and left the building for the last time. It was sad, but the experience really did define the future of my career in the field. While I was still working there, my wife and I got married in the spring of 2001, and it was a beautiful day in May. She broke her thumb the night before, so she had this big thumb cast thing sticking up like she was perpetually trying to catch a ride somewhere. I still remember the music towards the end of the ceremony, as she pin wheeled her arms beside me. (Her high heels were sinking into the grass and she was trying not to fall over backwards at the time.)

Years later, I started working with another local company called SSB Technologies, which started me down the path of building accessible technologies. After starting, I was initiated into the corporate ranks by learning the tightly held company secret that SSB actually stood for “Side Show Bob”, and thus, history was made.

About the same time, my wife and I started travelling more, which was great! We visited her family in Portugal where I shocked her family with my uncouth American ways like drinking my soup from the soup bowl, using the fish knife to cut strawberries, and (oh god) by putting a Hershey’s Kiss in my espresso. I remember teaching her little cousins how to be blind by having them cover their eyes and walk around bumping into things like walls and furniture and people. I remember sword fighting with an orange tree using my cane in the botanical gardens of Furnas on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores trying to knock loose an orange for my wife, which turned out to be a lemon orange which made her squeak and hop up and down when she bit into it. Also, when I was hugging the teeth shaped battlements with a death grip in the castle of São Jorge in Lisbon after belatedly realizing there was no railing behind me to the courtyard three stories below (which my wife forgot to mention at the time). I remember how we accidentally wandered into a procession of the Royal Family in London while walking past Buckingham Palace, discovering the wonders of late night English broadcasting such as the three hour history of the referee whistle, what it feels like to sit in an inch of icy rain water on the top deck of an English Red tour bus during a storm, and how eerie the sound is of a constable of ravens in the Tower of London. I remember happily tweaking the noses and ears of the gargoyles in the bell tower of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, accidentally kicking a skull like a soccer ball while we made our way through the Catacombs, accidentally feeling up the wrong end of Rodin’s Monument to Balzac when trying to figure out what the statue was (which is probably on YouTube somewhere), and being given romantic advice by a drunk Parisian lady in an empty greasy diner in the middle of the night.

My point is, that I choose to remember all of these things in this way, because all of these experiences define who I am and what I perceive as reality. I can’t ever go back to change the past and undo the painful experiences there, but I can choose to incorporate them into the tapestry of my life in such a way that it makes me a better person.

As such, life is like a story by T.C. Boyle, filled with humorous stories and strange events that define who we are as people, and the world would be a better place if everybody could see it this way.

Our Mother ( a mushy love poem)

The night arrives
replete with lustful languor
slowly, creeping darkness overtakes
and the day is gone
Gone the car horns, and deadlines,
cash registers and harsh words gone.
All gone… …
The insane spinning stops
Beneath our feet the momentum still rumbles
But we stand still
Alone-together
We hear the waning moans of the day
Alone- the darkness
soothingly, caressingly envelopes us
Alone-Together
Shoulders sink; a deep communal sigh
Darkness, our mother
These walls her womb
You cease, I cease
We exist
In her darkness
goodness prevails
in her arms we lie
her fingers in our hair
Alone-together-she makes us one
She kisses our forehead
and in her arms we drift to Eden
Dreams our rulers
and in our sleep she leaves,
her tracks sprinkled with promise
We wake in peace
our hug, a reminder that she’ll return
We leave, alone
her promise, our smile
We go through the day alone
We do it again
We do it for her-our mother
her promise- our darkness