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Jo Scott-Coe JO SCOTT-COE is the author of a memoir in essays, Teacher at Point Blank (Aunt Lute Books, 2010), selected by Ms. Magazine as a Great Read. Her writing on intersections of education, gender, and violence has appeared in many publications including the Los Angeles Times, Swink, Ninth Letter, Hotel Amerika, River Teeth, and Fourth Genre. She received a Pushcart Special Mention in 2009 and Notable Essay listings in Best American Essays 2009 and 2010. Her conversations with essayist Richard Rodriguez and novelist-poet Margaret Atwood have appeared in Narrative. Find Jo on Twitter, at her website, and at the Writer Ninja Podcast, now available on iTunes. She is currently at work on a new book, Tripwires and Trigger Fingers.

Recent Work By Jo Scott-Coe

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Perhaps by now—if not within minutes or hours—most discussion of George Zimmerman’s acquittal for shooting Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, will be crowded from the news cycle. What on earth could be more compelling to Americans than serious talk about the role of bias in jury deliberation, or gun laws and cultural codes of firearm manliness, or voting rights, or who really gets to stand their ground in America?

Supersex Me

By Jo Scott-Coe

Essay

bushmaster manOn  Friday, November 30, after driving himself from Connecticut to Wyoming, Christopher Krumm used a bow and arrow to kill his professor father at the front of a classroom filled with community college students, and then stabbed himself to death. But before he did that, he stabbed his father’s 42 year-old girlfriend at home two miles away.

On Friday, December 14, Adam Lanza went on a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty children and six adults. But before he did that, he shot and killed his mother at home.

On Christmas Eve, William Spengler lured first responders to his neighborhood by setting a fire and then shooting four firemen, killing two of them, then committing suicide. Before he did that, he likely caused the death of his sister, whose remains were later found in the ashes. Way before that, in 1980, he killed his grandmother with a hammer.

 

I have measured out my life in sentences: composing, reading, revising and discarding them; talking to students about how to write, interpret, and edit them. I have dreaded the sentence that doesn’t come easily. I have learned at times to play with words that feel like nonsense in order to discover and organize thoughts, teasing words to make clarity appear.

There are sentences with gaps and missing pieces. Redundant sentences. Muscular sentences. Transitional sentences. Sentences that sing. Then: stylistic fragments. Intentional run-ons. Does the reader trust your sentences? If you break the rules, will the reader follow? Sentences that capture complicated feelings or thoughts by uniting verbs with precise subjects and prepositional direction. I’m lost in this sentence. Is this the best place for this sentence? Could these sentences be combined?

The troubled boy attends school, drops out, stocks up on guns and paramilitary gear, stages his siege–from a bell tower, in a cafeteria, down a lane of classrooms, in a parking lot or a theater. Secret diaries are found, blog rants or videos discovered. We just can’t believe it. Then we believe it. We shudder and weep and damn things. We forget that we’ve already forgotten.

Places that know their variation of the story, that have suffered human wreckage and been left behind, must ache from the next round of oblivious headlines that repackage each event as if it’s a new sensation, Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before.

Folks have been predictably misty-eyed lately over the outpouring of support for Karen Klein, the 68-year old bus monitor who was taunted by 7th grade boys in Greece, New York. Within a week, more than half a million dollars was raised from outraged and sympathetic well-wishers who wanted to “send this woman on a vacation,” and the total money amount continues to climb. Anderson Cooper reports that Southwest Airlines will foot the bill for Klein and nine of her friends and/or family members to enjoy a 3-day trip to Disneyland. Klein is also talking about finally being able to consider retirement.

Put a gun in your hand, open the chamber. Take a revolver, an assault rifle, a shotgun. Load it.

You’ll first feel the dense mass of steel, polymer, or wood weight in your palms. You’ll roll the cylinder, if there is one, pop it open and snap it shut. You’ll learn the distinct snicks and clicks of safety levers and shells and the hammer. With a shotgun, you’ll beware the bite of the spring snap after you shove the last round in the loading port. You’ll see that it takes time for untrained fingers: slipping single bullets into the chamber, loading multiple cartridges into the magazine. You’ll count as you shoot. The sound of each shot will be extra startling if you shoot indoors the first time: WHOUUM for the 357 Magnum. TAP TAP for the 22. You won’t help but wonder about all the pockmarks in the ceiling and sidewalls from previous bullets poorly aimed. Gunpowder will make a shocking cloud. You’ll leave with black marks on your hands, and you’ll smell faintly of fireworks.

 

On Super Tuesday, after a blast of last-minute organization, Rick Santorum won the North Dakota caucus. I spent a strange and happy chunk of my kid-hood in the city of Minot, barely an hour from the Canadian border, and I attended the St. Leo’s parish school downtown, just blocks south of the Souris River and the giant red neon sign of the Bridgeman Creamery. Because this was also a time when my parents happened to be grassroots crusaders in the anti-ERA, anti-secular humanism textbook battles of the late 1970s, I feel a sense of déja vu to see Santorum win in North Dakota.

This is another way of saying I watch him win and feel about ten years old.

The evening of January 8, Tucson marked the one-year anniversary of last year’s tragic shooting with a vigil on the mall at the University of Arizona. Funerals and memorial services for individuals had long passed, and the vigil was mostly a community celebration of healing, remembrance, and resilience in the face of violence and death. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords embodied this spirit, rising to the stage with her radiant, childlike smile and bright red scarf. Her energetic recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance drew chants, cheers, and even tears of goodwill from the crowd. Other shooting survivors and family members participated in a candle lighting ceremony. A local symphony and choir performed, and the Band Calexico, reportedly a longtime favorite of Giffords, sang “The Crystal Frontier.” At one point, on cue, the crowd transformed into a swaying ocean of blue glow sticks in the darkness.

Unless you’re on a serious media diet, it can be difficult to miss the roar of publicity praise machines churning out promotions and profiles during awards season. We’re currently surviving a stage-one George Clooney avalanche and, while somewhat understandable (it’s just show biz, after all), I confess that I find the gooey adulation of Clooney a bit much to bear.