The Mechanics of Moving Forward

canstockphoto0054029When deciding what to write about on this blog, I generally have a subject that is fresh in my mind – something that I’ve been mulling over for a few days, working through ideas before I sit down at the keyboard. I’ve been trying to get myself back here, to get myself to focus on something besides what is in the news, what is in my head. While we are being worn down and demoralized by the news coverage of the latest school shooting, my heart is incredibly heavy and my head remains in a depressive fog.

This is one of those times when I really question my ability to be a working writer – when I cannot write beyond what is happening in my head. If it is to be treated like any other job, I should be able to force myself to work under any circumstances. It feels uncomfortable to write something lighthearted or even off-topic right now. I see many of my fellow writers are moving us forward and I’m glad – it’s necessary, but I am not there yet. Like many people, evidence that the world can be a horrible place, has triggered a depression that I will be in for awhile.

It’s the holiday season for many of us. I spent Friday doing the last bit of holiday shopping before I heard the news. This week, I begin baking like a madwoman. The week ahead was to be busy, but fun and festive. For my family’s sake, I have to continue moving in that vein, focusing on what needs to be done. Inside my head, things are quiet and solemn. I smile at my daughter and hug my husband, but I am only partly present to them. My mind is still processing and working to find meaning where none can be found.

There are fears that plant themselves inside my head that never leave. In 2002, when a sniper went on a three week killing spree, Linda Franklin, 47, from Virginia was loading purchases in her car at a Home Depot in the evening, when she was shot and killed. Since my husband and I had done practically the same thing the night before, that fact came and stayed with me. I am never in a parking lot that doesn’t get scanned and analyzed, aware that my reaction, in the face of a sniper bullet, is completely pointless.

Tomorrow, I have to take my daughter to her elementary school. I don’t want to. I don’t want her to leave my side. I don’t want my husband to go to work in downtown Minneapolis. I do not wish to travel to a public place to meet my employers for a planning meeting. I do not want to wrap gifts. I do not want to bake cookies. I want to be quiet, be still, be undisturbed. But life does not stop – there is no pause button that makes time stand still for the living and there is good reason for that.

I need to come to terms with the fact that life must go on. I must stop watching the news, stop imagining the grief of parents, the horror of that scene. I must come back to my own reality, with all the risks and joys that it entails. But I am not ready yet. Instead of adding to the cacophony of analysis and ruminations, I’ll publish posts this week that I’ve written when I wasn’t in a fog. Perhaps that is what a working writer must do – plan for these times when a presence should be maintained, even when one is truly not present.

Motion and activity may be mechanical, but it allows the brain those moments of silence. I will bake. I will wrap presents. I will pack my husband’s and daughter’s lunches. I will blog some more. I will begin conversation again. I will engage. I will come out of my fog and be reminded, we are still here, we’re alive and it’s okay. We honor the loss of life by embracing our own. I haven’t reached that point, but I will.

33 Comments on “The Mechanics of Moving Forward

  1. Do you find that writing about it is cathartic and/or purging and/or healing and/or gratifying and/or comforting and/or something the helps you to be able to see better?

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    • It does help me see things more clearly, since writing requires that I organize my thoughts. My concern this week is that everybody is writing about Friday’s events. It becomes too much talking and not enough reflection. I need that reflection time as well, but I don’t want to disappear.
      I understood your reaction to my last post, because that is what I’ve been feeling. Writing today’s post was a step in getting my shit together and being fully present in my own life again.

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      • Me too. I hardly talked about it much. I hardly listened to much news about it (I didn’t want to cause I’m SICK of it all) or listened to people talk about it either. My writing a little poemsy about it was spontaneous and my “soulful” and personal way of dealing with it if that makes sense. When I was ready ya know. 🙂

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        • That’s the pace I’m going at – when I’m ready. I think the holiday season overlapping all of this is making it hard to be reflective and I have to make a conscious plan for the week, for writing, for holiday preparation.

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  2. Amazing post. All of it, but something you said really resonated with me. About scanning dark parking lots. I live in Toronto. Downtown. We have a HUGE mall down here called The Eaton Centre. There have unfortunately been shootings there several times over the years. There’s an Apple store in there. I really must go. Having a problem with my iPhone battery. But since Friday, I’m actually afraid to go there. Horrible to think that we now have to fear that some sick, tortured individual will hear the news and decide to do the same thing here. Even more horrible to think it’s actually possible.

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    • It’s hard not to be paralyzed when thinking about how random it all is. People want to jump on fears, by citing statistics. Who cares if there is a minute chance of it happening? There was a minute chance of it happening at Sandy Hook as well. This is the argument I have in my head whenever something horrific happens. I suppose this is where habit takes over – we can either focus on the fear or get back into our routines. There is something primitive about bullheadedly moving forward – it is simply our nature to survive.
      People are already declaring answers to the broader picture. I just need to get back to living before thinking about gun control and mental health. This post was a step in that direction. This conversation is, of course, the next step.

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  3. I understand your feelings perfectly. I have written nothing because it just seems wrong. Normalcy will return eventually, but it will be altered. The fear you feel is universal, I think. I have talked to many friends who just want to “hole up” and keep the world at its distance. That is where I am at now.

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    • This is my inclination as well, but life is not going to wait for me to get my head sorted out and my fears managed. And while it is my tendency to retreat into a quiet, depressive state, this is probably the time when we most need each other, if only to know that we are not alone in our anxieties and sadness.

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  4. It’s important that you don’t confuse “moving forward” with “moving beyond” or “moving on”. The magnitude and horror of the news is simply too much to absorb. To presume that any thinking, feeling person could hear of that story and not be moved and horrified is unthinkable. By the same token, life does not wait long for us to get past things and do what needs to be done.

    In a way, this entire episode has been a perverse reminder to us all. No one who has a child to hug or cherish can avoid doing so. I was out Christmas shopping yesterday and had a lump in my throat every time I saw or heard a child – which was pretty much constantly.

    There is simply no way to avoid the senseless, cruel deeds of minds which have gone bad. The world is too small.

    Moving forward is not to be equated with forgetting. In physics, we learn that one cannot move in any direction without an equal and opposite reaction. One cannot truly move forward without acknowledging what is behind.

    Sorry for my dime-store philosphy – I don’t have the heart to write my own post about my feelings. Not yet.

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    • Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this post – you have said much which I did not. Like any form of grief, moving forward is simply the lessening of intense feelings so that we can function – there is no forgetting. I say this now, knowing that in the future, I will need to figure out something concrete that I can do, beyond just feeling, that will be a positive response to this tragedy. Perhaps that is a post for another day.

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  5. yes, turn off the news. Stay away from mainstream media. Your soul will be able to breathe that much easier and moving forward will naturally happen. The mainstream media doesn’t want us to move forward – we spend more money when we are afraid. This quote has helped me during this time, to not give in to despair: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” ~ Mr. Rogers
    Find ways to help others. One of my colleagues, due to what happened, is determined to complete a minimum of one random act of kindness every day – she said that is her way of helping (and dealing with the fear).

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    • You are right. I firmly believe in staying an informed citizen, but the news churn does more than that and it’s important to know when to step away. Thank you for sharing the Mr. Rogers quote. I believe there is more good in this world than evil, but in times like this, we have to will our eyes to see the good.

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  6. Thank you for your honesty. I have seen too many posts that are basically knee-jerk reactions to this tragedy both here on WordPress and on FaceBook. I wish more people would have reflected and thought about this before posting, as you did.

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    • It may make me a jerk, but I can’t read one more discussion about gun rights and mental health issues right now. Can we just take a moment? Can we grieve? Can we be afraid? Can we breathe? If we don’t deal with the full range of emotions first, how can we be reasonable in our “solutions”? Maybe it’s human – a form of collective denial. If we just rant enough, we won’t have to be scared, we won’t have to weep…sorry Ruth – you just raised some of my own frustrations.

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  7. I think that writing is different to other jobs. After all, it’s about spilling a part of yourself onto the page, and I think therefore when bad things happen or when you’re left reeling from such a horrifying event, a writer’s work can grind and become much more difficult than say, an office worker who inputs numbers behind a desk or a bus driver who just needs to steer straight. Writing is not easy when suffering – not that I think these jobs are necessarily easy, I just mean they don’t come with the same problems. But it can become an outlet, cathartic for the pain that we may feel as well – so I suppose there are positives and negatives.
    I hope you manage to find your way out of the fog soon. I know the feeling, I sometimes get lost in what I see on the news. I enjoyed this post – as in I thought it was very considered and reflective and I related to it. Of course I didn’t enjoy the content, I just…oh I’m digging my hole deeper, but I hope you understand what I meant.

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    • I did understand what you meant and I appreciate your thoughtful comment. I think one way out of the writer’s morass is that I may just go back to working on my novel for a week – fiction is often easier than real life. This blog is really meant for personal essays, which means I am writing from wherever my head is at the time. I have enjoyed reading your posts, by the way – it feels like a bit of escapism right now.

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  8. A very thoughtful post, I completely relate. I had a very similar experience to yours at the time of the sniper shootings in DC, a man was killed at the corner of my car dealership on Rockville Pike where I had just picked up my car. These things tend to affect us, but I keep telling myself that one has to trust life, realizing we cannot control everything. Worry and fear do not achieve anything so I try my best to acknowledge them and then let them go…and fill my mind with positive thoughts that enable me to live in the present more fully. Not always easy, but I believe the good far outweighs the bad, despite everything we see around us, and that we need to focus more on the good/positive – whatever that means to each of us.

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    • I think it’s important to acknowledge that fear, that lack of control. It’s a very Buddhist concept to accept impermanence as part our human experience. It’s great in theory, but a little hard to wrap our brains around when that impermanence is so pointless. For me, it always boils down to a couple of things: What are our choices? What concrete action can I take, so that I provide a counterbalance against evil? I recognize the choice is to embrace life. As to the second part, I haven’t figured that out yet. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.

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  9. I decided yesterday to just turn off the news – it’s too overwhelming. I spent yesterday afternoon and most of today with my camera outdoors. I don’t want to hear the debate yet. It’s so very sad and random. I long for the “innocence” we all had just Thursday – but that’s just gone. I think that writing for you is probably like my camera is for me – it centers me to get all right brained and not think. Maybe it’s escapism, but I don’t actually want to be present right now.

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    • I think you’re right about the debates on this story – they are really random, unfocused and at this point, not particularly helpful. I’m just going with the Abominable snow monster from Rudolph: “Put one foot in front of the other and soon you’ll be walking out the door”. You’re right about writing – it does help me center. I look forward to seeing more of your photos and hope that it gives you what you need.

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      • I just rested in the moment today. I left the TV off and just focused on what was in front of me. I tuned back in for the president’s speech – it’s like whiplash, but I think as a country we have to go through it to come through on the other side.

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  10. You didn’t really want to write about it, and yet you did, and thoughtfully so
    : )

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      • Imho, it’s better to break the loop in our minds and bring thoughts to “paper”.
        Cheers to you.

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  11. So many people are writing about this latest atrocity, adding my voice to the conversation in some ways seems futile. My blog is silent for the rest of the year, a choice I made before last Friday, but my heart aches and my mind reels over not only this event, but also other shootings close to home. Last year on Christmas Eve a man dressed as Santa Claus shot and killed seven people, including himself, while they were opening gifts in an apartment in my town.
    Coppell is a small town near where I live. It’s just like Sandy Hook. Everyone knows everyone. In October of this year, a Coppell high school senior shot himself and only two years ago the mayor of Coppell shot and killed her daughter, who had just graduated from high school, before also shooting herself.
    Over a decade ago, a decorated member of the United States Air Force was found shot after an argument with his girlfriend. His death forever changed my family. The mechanics of moving forward after receiving the news included telling my then nine year old son that his father was dead. The last memories my son would have of his father were of spending Christmas together. I’d spoken to him only three days before. We talked about him coming for a visit. He told me that he might be moving. Why did I not recognize something was wrong? Why didn’t he think of what this would do to our son? Why did he have a weapon? Had it been there when my son was visiting? How would we move forward? These and ten thousand other questions converged at once. No law could have prevented it.
    No anger, fear, finger pointing, or speculation can stop the excruciating pain of an experience like this. Pain subsides only to resurface each time a shooting takes place. I’m transported back to that moment and the scenario plays out in my head, the same questions, the same emotions. I watch it in slow motion. I hear people say things like “this kind of thing doesn’t happen here” and I wonder why didn’t anyone recognize something was wrong? It’s gut wrenching to witness. It’s devastating to experience. Moving forward is a process. I wonder each time this happens, why are we shocked?

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    • I try to block out the many things that people say to reassure themselves, because I don’t believe there really is any reassurance. I think it will be a very sad day when we are not shocked by events like this. As I’ve mentioned to a few commenters, I think at some point all this emotion needs to translate to action. Doing something besides hand wringing and venting will not change the past, but to let the outrage dissipate until the next event, well, for me, it has become unconscionable. However, I believe in taking a moment, taking a break, taking heart and letting the emotions wash over us. When that is done, I will read analyses and reports and commentary. I will think about the intersecting issues and try to figure out what I can do as a citizen and human being to lessen the likelihood of this kind of tragedy happening again. It’s really all we can do.

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      • Agreed. Every day of the rest of our lives, taking time to listen, show compassion. I think the fact that you can write objectively and create a forum for discussion that could very well result in appropriate action is exactly why your writing is important. You’re good at it. Good at getting people engaged, at focusing on facts, at showing a human side to very real issues. Not just vents and rants and blaming. As a mom, taking your child to school after this event is difficult. That’s real. Knowing that moving forward is the only way we can go. That’s real too. Thanks for this post.

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  12. Like all of us, my little grandson was shaken by this terrible tragedy. “I just see myself as one of those little kindergartners and it makes me feel so sad.”

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    • My daughter hasn’t reacted much to the story, but we haven’t had the news on this weekend or really talked about it too much. I just gave her a brief outline and told her if she had any concerns or questions, she could talk to us. We’ll see what tomorrow brings.

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  13. I liked this post — but I most like your recognition that, after you’ve processed all the emotion (or not) it’s time to ACT. That could be joining a group, and contributing to them financially, that fights for gun safety or writing every elected official who has power in this area, from Joe Biden on down. I handled the week (which has me sleeping 8-10+ hrs/night to recover) writing op-eds (2 in one day) and doing radio, print and TV interviews with foreign press, trying to explain this specific form of American obsession to horrified/disdainful people, literally, worldwide. That’s a hell of a responsibility, and there is no room in it for having many personal feelings. It’s a way to cope, and it works, by analyzing and explaining and rattling off facts and figures.

    But, underneath all the professionalization of the latest shooting, I am as horrified as anyone else. I studied ballistics in a minor way for my book about guns, so I have known for ten years how vulnerable we are in most public places. I was at the movies last week and (nice) wondered if I would be shielded if I ducked behind a seat against a shooter. I knew the answer. No one should be fearful of leaving home, but I bet many of us are now.

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    • Unfortunately, the event in Sandy Hook was followed up on Monday with the ambush of the firefighters in Webster, New York. I feel heartbreaking outrage at the pointlessness of it all, but I also know that sentiment is also pointless, if it is not acted upon.
      I’m still figuring out what MY action needs to be, but I also know it’s okay to pause and absorb. So much of the response, unlike your experienced response, is knee-jerk and vague. All the hand wringing in the world won’t make a difference, but I believe that as an individual, I have a responsibility to act.

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