Guns and goals.

This month I decided to shoot a gun and I liked it.

I’ve been told to feel a lot of ways about guns – fearful, scornful, protected, in awe – but fear was winning out, especially in the aftermath of the Florida school shooting. For some reason, I didn’t want to let it rest. It would’ve been easy to say, “I hate guns, ban them all,” but for the reality that I’ve been raised constantly around guns.

My grandfather was a police lieutenant and always had a giant (locked) gun cabinet. I’ve heard stories about him whipping a gun out to protect my grandmother’s honor and laughed at the way it turned a man into a mouse. Many of my family members have concealed carry permits. They just tuck their gun into their hip or glove compartment and keep it moving. At first, it was jarring seeing them up close, but then I started thinking about them when I imagined my female cousin walking home alone.

So yes, while I hate watching people of any age or color get killed at the hand of a gun, I had to consider that I wasn’t obligated to hate guns as a rule. I gave them a shot (pun intended).

My brother is the person I trusted most to take me to the gun range. When you do something terrifying, it helps to have family by your side, but it also helps if that family member is extremely even-keeled. Lucky for me, he agreed to take me “soon.” Sometime soon turned into a spontaneous weeknight trip to the shooting range. I spent a whole day at work trying to distract myself from the prospect of getting my firearm cherry popped. They say fear and excitement both stem from the same thing, so I can’t tell you exactly how I felt, but I was ready to overcome whatever it was.

It was wild. Shooting a gun is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I’ll start at the beginning.

When I walked in, I had three jobs: get gear, get a target, and try not to act like a punk. I succeeded in all these things with the help of the staff who surprisingly didn’t laugh at me when that confused look fell on my face. What did I need eye protection for? They weren’t gonna stop bullets. I never saw people wear ear protection in the movies. What target should I get? I ended up getting a target of a zombie, because it seemed like it deserved to get shot more than the faceless silhouettes. (Oddly, the zombie had a mask of a white man with blonde hair next to his face and I briefly second-guessed myself.)

I walked into the gun range in a daze. I didn’t even read the sign about wearing ear and eye protection at all times. This is unfortunate, because I slid one ear free for a brief moment and learned that lesson the hard way. I picked the first stall the same way I pick bathroom stalls – I don’t want to be right next to someone and if someone new comes along, I don’t want them to have to go right next to me either.

Then, the lesson began. My brother taught me about the action, loading guns, unloading guns, and the difference between a bullet and a cartridge. Ten minutes in I hadn’t shot yet and I was worse off because I also learned that cases fly out when you shoot. And they’re not going the same direction as the bullet. Thus, the eye protection.

My brother let me pick up the gun and shoot and it was done. Just like that. I shot a gun, and nobody died. It was still stressful, though. Guns don’t just seem powerful, they are powerful. They send my little body flying back with each fire. I thought I was aiming for the zombie’s head, but I have no idea where those bullets actually landed. Over time I flinched more and more with each shot because I knew the bullet was bigger than me. I had overcome my initial fear, but my new challenge was to hold my own.

I fired more than two dozen rounds. I wish I could say my aim got better, but at least I learned a few things.

  1. “Hand off the trigger!” If you’re not immediately planning to shoot a gun, you better keep your trigger finger out of the trigger position. Oh, and point down the range at all times.
  2. Guns aren’t inherently evil. For competitive people, shooting a gun could be like throwing darts or firing arrows. I liked that part of it. I wanted to hit my target (as long as it was paper and cardboard.)
  3. Guns are still serious business. Guns can take lives and should be treated as such. I felt that power every time I fired and felt my own body shake. I won’t take it for granted.

I’m still afraid of guns, but I think that’s a good thing. I understand the gravity of gun ownership and use even better than I did watching other people talk about guns. At the same time, I’m glad I have a better idea how I could use one to protect myself. I might even go back to the shooting range. See if I get better, safer, less reckless. There’s always more to learn in this world.

If money were no object…I’d be an English teacher?

This is the question that is supposed to guide the 9 to 5er toward their purpose:

What would you do if money were no object?

For a while now, the answer for me has been “read books,” but after posting about my latest reading resolution on Facebook, I considered that I may have ambitions of being an English teacher. Let me explain.

This February, I decided to read at least four Black books. There are obvious reasons and some less obvious reasons for this: because it’s Black History Month, because Black history has always been an elective in my education, because I read more than 50 books a year total, and because it would make my mother happy. The last one has to do specifically with the years I spent avoiding Richard Wright and Ralph Elisson. My mom used to have a house decorated with African masks and a list of books by Black authors she wanted me to read. These included Invisible Man, Superman to Man, Native Son, Black Boy, and many others. My brother read all the books. I negotiated. I think my mom wanted to make sure we didn’t forget we were Black – something that we were in actual danger of forgetting.

I fought my mother tooth and nail. I didn’t want to read about the Black experience – from what I’d heard, it didn’t sound all that fun. I wanted to read about Harry Potter, Lyra, and Miss Marple. (To be fair, I also hated almost everything my high school English teachers put in front of me.) It was tug and pull. I read Angela Johnson and Walter Dean Myers so my mother would leave me alone. They were newer authors and not originally on the list, but they were Black.

Then, after years of protesting, I went to college, began to study creative writing, and signed up for three different classes on Black literature. Life is funny like that. It wasn’t the first time I’d dealt with being Black at a predominantly white institution (PWI), but it was the first time, I really started valuing my Blackness. I wanted to know more. I wanted some context for who I was becoming. I wanted to be ready when my peers asked me about race.

Today there are dozens of books on my shelf that I have yet to read, including a few from my mother’s list. So, I started with A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. After I read 50 pages, I decided I’d committed to it, and went on Facebook. Were there any brave souls who wanted to read Black books with me this Black History Month? By now, I was already thinking of other books I could read: The Last Black Unicorn for fun and timeliness, from Superman to Man because my mom loves it, and In Search of Satisfaction because J. California Cooper is one of my favorite authors ever.

I didn’t actually expect anyone to reply to my post.

At least four people expressed interest in reading with me. What happened next is hilarious. I got excited. I jumped out my bed and ran around the house. I told my mom about my impromptu book club. I stayed up late researching the best way to have casual digital discussions about books. I went to bed with a smile on my face.

The next day I sat down to read a few chapters of A Lesson Before Dying and accidentally finished the book. Part of me was egged on by pain. It was difficult in the way I grew up expecting Black books to be. I read about 20th-century racism, powerlessness, and actual death. I wanted the book to end. But another part of me wanted to keep diving deeper, to keep thinking differently. There were quotes so heavy I had to write them down and chapters that made me think about something in recent years. There were plenty of moments where I was simply filled with gratitude for my current opportunities and the fact I didn’t have to bow my eyes to talk to my coworkers or managers (and at least most of the police officers I’ve encountered). And after I was finished, I wanted nothing more than to have a community of people to talk about it with. I wanted other people to finish the book so we could begin examining it front to back, not just what we liked and disliked, but the prose, the culture, the ramifications.

It was at that moment I feared I was becoming an English teacher. I remember sitting in one of my college’s literature classes and raising my hand to talk about some post-apocalyptic book we’d been assigned. My teacher kept looking out at everyone with these sad eyes, begging someone to talk to him about it, to answer his questions, or even look like they wanted to be there. I would say 90% of the class failed at this. I was one of the few people trying to talk to him, and today I empathize with him. The hardest thing about wanting to read and talk about books is finding other people who want to read and talk about the same books. People you can tell, “hey this is gonna make you grow,” and people who step up to that challenge. When that happens though, it can be pure magic.

So, the more I think about it, the less likely I am to be just any kind of English teacher. I don’t want to suffer through classes of bored faces and garbage papers simply because there’s a lit requirement that needs to be met. I’d like to imagine myself as one of those teachers they show in movies and tv shows. One of those teachers that has all their students out on the lawn in the sunshine with books in their hand. The one with a sparkle in her eye because the discussion has taken a life of its own and all she has to do is sit back and watch minds move. Does that ever happen in real life? I think I’d sign up for that.