I don't live in Arizona, and I haven't since 2004. My parents and my sister have left the state in the last few months, after roughly twenty years of residency, and I have one truly close friend left there. She's down in Tucson, and her facebook feed was how I heard about the shootings there yesterday.
I've been trying to figure out why I feel so upset. It's an upsetting situation, of course: many people, including a person who sounds decent and forward-thinking and is trying to better peoples' lives, are shot in an act of sudden violence. A child is killed, a federal judge, others as well. These are terrible things. But because of where it happened, I feel my heart twist in an entirely different way.
I love where I am from. I've been in Chicago for six and a half years, but I still have an Arizona drivers license. When I was stranded in a doorway in Germany at midnight this past summer, a stranger paused to ask me if I was okay. When he asked me where I came from, there was no hesitation, although I had flown directly from Chicago: "Arizona." (In one of the more surreal moments from that evening, it turned out he was from Lake Havasu City. Small goddamn world.) But it's been increasingly hard for me this year to reconcile the politics of my state with the people I knew there, the people I lived and worked and hiked with, loved and drank coffee with. How can a place where all these lovely people come from, where I come from, vote to essentially legalize racism, to cut multicultural educational programs, to re-elect the governor responsible for these bills who literally believes that God chose her for this purpose? How is that even possible? It creates cognitive dissonance, because the Arizona I hold in my mind is so completely at odds with the Arizona I read about in the news, again and again and again.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, of course. Arizona has always been a conservative state; I just happened to grow up in a smallish hippie liberal bastion and to go to college in a sprawling desert city with an active radical liberal element. I happened to grow up white and middle-class and well-educated. I was sheltered, in large part, from the actual impacts of the whack-jobbery that was certainly going on when I lived there, by who I was and because, frankly, I never made the time to come far enough out of my bubble to clearly see the other Arizona, the one that confuses me so much now. I remember it dimly, but as more and more years pass the Arizona in my mind is winnowed down to what I loved, not what I--even then--didn't.
There are other reasons why the shooting yesterday was so upsetting, of course. Rep. Giffords sounds like exactly the type of person Arizona needs right now, like somebody I would vote for, and those are few and far between there. But then there's also Sarah Palin with her abhorrent gun sight metaphors--Giffords was, of course, one of her "targets"--the feeling that finally, the crazy is going too far. We never seem to realize that until people start dying, and usually not even then.
I'd like to leave with a quote from my friend Erica, about the ways we use metaphor and the dangers of our careless treatment. Much love to those involved in yesterday's shooting, those in Tucson, in Arizona, my friends elsewhere who are mirroring my shock and horror and shame. I wish for better things in the future.
"What troubles me most, however, is that such oversimplifications cavalierly assume that when we use metaphor, we do not really mean what we say...metaphors do, indeed, mean a great deal and may, in fact, serve as intersecting points for the various components of experience and action." -A. Kolodny