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December Notes

Michael Nagel

Nobody knows what to do with themselves when a twenty-year-old walks into Sandy Hook elementary school with an assault rifle and kills twenty first-graders, six adults, and then himself. But it's almost Christmas and the city is all lit up. We built our tree in the window and opened our blinds. The New York Times published the names, the ages, white on black, and my dad shook his head and scratched his scalp and took us all out for a nice Mexican dinner at the mall. All anyone wants to know is why this keeps happening. Michael said this mall will do over a billion in sales this month, the fifth highest in the country. I ordered the sour cream enchiladas, my mom's favorite, and forked a bite onto her plate.

It stormed last night and trash covered the streets, lights fell from the trees. I could feel the wind against the car, affecting us. I asked Janessa how fast the wind was blowing and she said twenty-five miles an hour, which didn't sound that fast. I said, isn't it sometimes a hundred miles an hour? And she said, in a hurricane. The intersections were out and the lights were flashing. I said it felt like we were driving through a place we'd never been.

I've been listening to Christmas music to remind myself it's Christmastime. A scientist in Connecticut is looking for genetic reasons the shooter might have snapped. He said it would just be nice to know. Yes, I thought, it would just be nice to know. The Huffington Post published the twenty-six portraits online yesterday and I scrolled through them all. I felt, somehow, I owed it to the victims to know what they looked like. I clicked as fast as I could click.

I've been reading Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier, a sprawling yawn of a book, which I mean in the most endearing way. I am in love with it. Yesterday, I discovered a band called Grimes, and their album "Visions." I'd heard it before, but things have to come to you at the right time, a convergence of details.

Mamet said art cannot be created in the conscious mind. We have to live between intentionality and whim: exactly the space I seek to occupy. And yesterday Instagram announced it would sell users' photographs to advertisers without payment or notice, causing everyone to more or less freak the fuck out. A reminder, I thought, that these things were never ours to begin with. In response, users have been posting pictures of their assholes. The NRA promised to make a meaningful, constructive statement about the massacre, and I've been fighting some kind of cold, shivering in my clothes, all wrapped up in scarves. Pitchfork is posting their end-of-the-year lists: Purity Ring, Cat Power, Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti. It's thirty-four degrees out. I put down Travels in Siberia, but pick it back up again. I set it on my desk. I told Janessa I didn't know what to get her for Christmas, that I'd had a certain idea but it wasn't going to work out—I was lying on the couch—and she kissed me on my lips and said I was the best husband, which wasn't what I'd been expecting.

I can guess the name of every song by the way the singer says certain words. I can tap beats in perfect facsimile on my steering wheel. I am a goddamn fucking miracle sometimes. The small group wondered how anyone could feel safe when anything could happen at any moment. We have to be prepared, they said, and I was listening across the restaurant, nodding, yes, thinking, yes, agreeing, yes, we have to be prepared. They were all, all of them, old men.

The founder of Instagram claims he has no intention of selling users' photographs, there has been a misunderstanding. The Executive Vice President of the NRA said, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, and he held the podium with both hands. In Newtown they painted a fence with the names of victims—Grace, Emilie, Jack, Benjamin, etc. There were teddy bears and flowers and wreaths made of lace. In the 1200s the Mongols sacked Moscow continually, over and over, killing, once, 240,000 civilians in a single campaign. Nobody moved away. What is it, I wonder, that ties us to a place? Lapierre's teeth clicked into the microphones and he didn't take questions. I've been staying up late, reading about Siberia, reading on our couch in our living room, in the glow of our Christmas tree. Last night, I slept out here but I don't know why. Maybe I wanted to feel like I was somewhere else.

A man was knocking at the door in the middle of the night and I was looking through the peephole, holding my breath. I could be convinced of almost anything, I thought. I am a compliant man.


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