Saturday, November 26, 2011

Not a Theme

For the boy, it's become All Weapons, All the Time. While his mother dreams about how to make it All Motorcycles, All the Time (but will never really succeed, and, to tell the truth, doesn't actually want to: there are so many other alluring pursuits devised by man and nature, she never wants there to be only one).

The boy is the product of a mother who is repelled by war, yet also fascinated by its abundant detail, not only the parade-clean, gold-braid variety of detail, either. (To the point of thinking about writing a book about this strange love.) She believes war is a treatable insanity.

The boy is the product of a mother who has been vegetarian for thirty-six years, and who winces every time mid-November rolls around again. That is when she encounters the bow hunters walking into the woods, and it is all she can do to print a tight smile on her face and return a small hello as they pass. She averts her eye from what they carry,
horrific instruments of pain and eventual death. (Anyone who says pshaw might volunteer to have an arrow fired into their soft tissue at 300 fps, then walk around for a day or two like that. All in the interests of science.) She sees no beauty there, no pleasure. And if there is pleasure, for the shooter, she does not want to examine it very deeply.

The boy is a gentle sort, who loves all dogs. He would not, as the saying goes, hurt a fly (though he draws the line at mosquitoes). But the boy is a boy. Therefore he is besotted with weapons. He studies them, draws them, discusses them, and possibly dreams of them.
He suffers a deep sense of personal offense when a popular boy's book discusses one sort of machine gun but then illustrates it with another. What an affront!

Finally, the boy is the product of a mother who also loves guns. She feels like a terrible hypocrite, the hater of all voluntary killing and the lover of that which arose from the purpose; the beauty of guns is a terrible beauty, a powerful one because of their true purpose. She sees them in the same class as all mechanisms that combine functionality and art: architecture, motorcycles, certain cars, the martial arts. She has a gut feeling that Frank Gehry would design deeply ugly guns, because for one thing they would fall apart very easily and have a lot of gewgaws on them that didn't relate to any practical purpose.

Can a committed pacifist love the instruments of death without apology?

I would like the answer to that question. Meanwhile, I listen to the dinnertime disquisitions on armaments and their designers. I realize that, for my boy, they represent what motorcycles do to me: a focus, history and experience wrapped up in one complex yet also simple object, a pleasure, a way in and a way out. Meanwhile, I borrow the Airsoft pistol when no one is watching, and I feel something when the pellet hits the can, square in the heart of the target.


Shybiker said...

An apparent conundrum, sure, but I return to the cliche: guns don't shoot people/animals; the person pulling the trigger does. It is possible to enjoy the mechanical structure and prowess of these machines. (I don't, but can see how others, like you and your son, do.)

As you frequently note, life is a lot more complicated than our society's easy answers describe.

Charles said...

give me warning next trip out, and we can arrange a visit to the target range. whence paper, not people is shot, precise aim is valued over random death, and? and? it's fun to control things that go "BOOM"

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Charles, as always, nailed the experience here in a single idea: controlling the otherwise uncontrollable.

It's why we ride, too. Or at least part of it. The rest is impossibly complicated. And to me, teasing apart the million threads of life's weird complexities is a joy I wouldn't want to live without. I won't have to, either: I'll never get to the bottom of it, even if I lived to be a million. Which I wouldn't want to do. Hence, guns and motorcycles.

And back again to the beginning of the circle.

Scott in Devon said...

I suppose I must have been the same Mellissa, along with millions of other boys in the era post dulceet decorum est pro patria more. As a boy I was fascinated with combat aircraft and battleships, submarines and tanks. Not light arms at all - maybe a symptom of growing up in Australia where guns are not everyday items. I can still appreciate the beauty of a Mark IX Spitfire, or HMS Vangaurd, or a de Havilland Mosquito, yet I know what they are for. To kill and destroy. But also to keep safe by deterrence in some respects. Hunting for me - well I was a member of a bowhunting club but never shot a thing - just field. Though my freinds took rabbits and ate them (as Dad did in the tough times in the 1940s..)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Seeing the gleam in my boy's eye as he talks about arms--both light and field artillery, and swords too!--I wish again I was a boy. I spent my childhood wishing that, too. But I am merely a boy wannabe. Thus, arms are art to me.