Do you have that little in your life that you have to look at some pregnant lady’s gut on a magazine? Like, REALLY think about that for a minute. You’re buying this thing because it has pictures of Suri Cruise in it?
I may be called a hypocrite by some for this, but that’s OK. I’d rather be a hypocrite who’s willing to change than a stubborn jackass who’s not.
In short, my views on gun control have been evolving. Like a lot of people (not to justify it) I had an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the shooting at Newtown, and in the month or two after, had a lot to say about gun control. With some time to reflect on that and do some more reading, I thought that my position had changed considerably, but after re-reading some posts—like this one and this one and then I read a book—I’m not sure I’ve changed my position as much as I thought I had. Granted, much of what I wrote at the time was in Facebook arguments that I don’t care to drag up again, but still.
Since then, as I said, I’ve done some reading and reflecting, and I’ve been to shooting ranges four different times. I suspect that will come as a surprise to some people with whom I’ve discussed gun control, because it often seems that people hear what they want: it seems to be a common belief that people who support some measure of gun control simply haven’t had the chance to become familiar with firearms and learn how to use them safely (and for some people, that is absolutely the case).
But, I’ve had the chance. As I’ve said before, I grew up in a family of hunters. My dad taught me to shoot his .22 rifle when I was 11 or 12, then the .22 pistol, and later a 12 gauge shotgun and .44 magnum revolver. More recently, I’ve rented a couple 9mm and .40SW pistols at the range, along with an M&P 15 (an AR-15, for the unfamiliar), and my Dad’s .30-30.
I feel like I need to preface anything I say about guns with all of this information: I have some idea what I’m talking about. Not as much as other people I know, but certainly more than the many people who have never shot.
Anyway: I’ve continued mulling things over since the post-Newtown debate flurry. I still believe that guns should be harder to get than they are. I checked with the shop above the range where I shoot, and they confirmed that the wait for a background check is only a couple minutes, so I could show up with a sweaty handful of cash and walk out with an AR-15 or a Glock, which is a bit unsettling. I still believe there are deeper societal ills that need to be addressed to bring down gun violence (I touched on that briefly in my last post: I don’t have any answers, but it seems like closing the wealth gap would go a long way to reducing violent crime).
I have come around on a few other things, though. For instance, assault rifles are used in a very low percentage of shootings; it makes no sense to spend time trying to ban assault weapons (and by the way, a bayonet lug is one of the criteria for an assault weapon. When was the last time someone was attacked with a freakin’ bayonet?) I debated the magazine capacity limit issue back and forth months ago, but have since been convinced that such limits won’t do anything to prevent mass shootings, since changing clips takes but a moment (hell, shooters at VA Tech and Columbine had backpacks full of low-capacity magazines, and it didn’t seem to stop them). That doesn’t mean I see either as necessary or appropriate: the hypothetical situations I’ve heard proposed as justifying either an AR-15 or a large-capacity clip have been decidedly convoluted. For example: “I want a clip that holds more than 10 rounds because if three or more people attack me at once, I’m likely to miss several shots in the confusion.” This argument tends to come shortly after the “larger magazines don’t matter because people can reload quickly” argument, which makes me wonder why you need a large magazine if it’s so easy to swap in a new one.
But, the size of the magazine isn’t the point. The point is that the size of the magazine is easy to debate, and easy for politicians to get their head around, and easy to propose legislation about. The impact on crime will be minimal at best, but more likely non-existent. Hell, here in Colorado, we can buy as many magazines as we want until July 1, when the 15-round limit goes into effect for any manufactured or sold magazines. The old ones that hold 30 or more rounds? Grandfathered in. How does that prevent crime? We’ve just spent a lot of time and money and energy to propose and attack and defend and debate these restrictions that ultimately won’t do anything, instead of spending that time and money and energy pursuing legislation or programs or something that could actually have a positive impact.
There are other areas where my opinion hasn’t changed. I don’t see any reason that background checks should not be required for every gun purchase. I don’t see any reason that gun owners shouldn’t be penalized in some way if they fail to properly secure their weapon, and it’s stolen and used in a crime. When I was a teenager, I had to take a ten-hour sportsman safety course before I could get a hunting license. The course covered basics of hunting—where to aim on the animal, how to field dress a deer, and so on—but also the more important aspects of basic gun safety and hunting and shooting laws that applied in the state and county. To get a driver’s license, I had to pass a written test, drive on a learner permit for six months, then past a practical test. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require something similar before someone can purchase products that are, by design, the deadliest things one can buy.
I’m beginning to think that our problem is one with software, not hardware. In this metaphor, the guns are (of course) the hardware. Society is the software. Just as software runs on hardware, our society seems to run on weapons. We spend more more on our military than the next THIRTEEN countries, combined. Globally speaking, China is the #2 spender on their military: they have four times as many citizens and spend 1/6 what we do. Our police departments are becoming increasingly militarized, making use of SWAT teams more and more, and becoming better equipped by picking up armored vehicles that have been retired by the military. The percentage of US households with guns steadily declined from the 60’s until they started sharply rising a few years ago. The most popular weapon in the US is the AR-15, an assault rifle whether you like the name or not: regardless of its merits, it was originally designed for battle.
None of this is new information, but all of it indicates that we are, to a greater extent than I would like, a militarized society. I can’t help but wonder how much of it is just a feedback loop: the news gives us more sensationalized accounts of break-ins and armed robberies (giving the illusion that they happen far more often than they do), so more people buy guns to arm themselves. More guns in the wild result in more accidents, and make it easier for people like the kid in Newtown to get their hands on some and kill a bunch of people, so politicians try to limit gun ownership to reduce crime. People get worried about gun-grabbing lefties, so they go out and buy more weapons, or their first. This turns into a feedback loop of its own, as stores sell out of ammunition and people start buying as much as they can when they have the option…leading to more empty shelves, and thus more frantic buying, and so on and so on and so on.
I’m basically saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but in a much larger sense. It’s not just that a gun lacks the agency of a human shooter; it’s that people, collectively and repeatedly, kill people, and push other people to arm themselves in defense of a perceived threat. Personally, if my concern were defending myself, I wouldn’t buy a gun to protect my family from burglars; I’d buy it to protect myself from the other people buying guns to defend themselves. My biggest fear is that people who see gun control as an assault on their liberties will take matter in their own hands. Again, another feedback loop: I posted on Facebook a little while ago speculating that the rumored ammunition order placed by the Department of Homeland Security may have been in case of armed uprising. Maybe it’s just my perception, but it seems more and more people are getting pissed at the government—almost violently so—and I don’t much want to see where that road leads (though lately, I’ve seen more recall petitions of pro-gun-control legislators than I’ve seen “We didn’t come armed this time” protests).
I would like to buy a couple guns. Does that stand in direct opposition to other things I’ve said? Maybe. Going to the range again, I remember how much I loved target shooting as a kid. More recently, I’ve learned about sports like 3-gun, which sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. And, to a very minor extent, I am interested in self defense. The rate of violent crime may have fallen over the past thirty years, but changing gun laws mean more people are carrying concealed, more people support things like “stand your ground” laws (and remember, people are bastards, still), and more people are going to get shot…and I don’t want to be one of those people. My interest in arming myself is not based in fear, but in being prepared and ready for the worst (we can talk more about preppers later: that’s something else I’ve been reading a lot about), but also based in a desire to engage in a hobby that’s not on the computer (again: that’s another post altogether).
The small park near us is closed for the summer to be renovated. The whole park is only about half a city block, and triangular because we live right where the square grid of streets shifts from simple north-sourth and east-west to a diagonal layout.
Last Monday, they put up a temporary fence around the park to keep people out while they dig up the sidewalks and do whatever else they’re going to do.
On one of the three sides of the park, right next to the sidewalk, sits a trash bin. Half a block down (if that) is a small dumpster. It’s inside a little fence thing of its own (you can see it on Google Maps), but the lid is usually open so that people can toss trash in, and I assume that the other trash bins in the park are emptied into it.
The new fence goes right to the sidewalk, so the trash bin is behind the fence, but the dumpster is outside the fence.
But, as noted, people are bastards. Rather than walking half a block to toss their dog poop in the dumpster, they just started hucking it over the fence toward the trash bin. And, naturally, missing.
So the construction workers turned the bin upside down in an attempt to stop people from trying to use it.
So now there’s an upside-down trash bin festooned with and surrounded by bagged dog shit. Because people are bastards.
At the airport on my way to Drupalcon Portland, I picked up Glenn Beck’s Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns. I already had Rachel Maddow’s Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power in my bag for the flight, but it caught my eye: I’m a sucker for bestsellers, it’s been a big topic lately, and I try to grant at least some time to the opinions of those with whom I generally disagree. My only regret is that he got some of my money.
I tried to go into this book with an open mind, despite generally disagreeing with Beck on just about everything. The first part (the first 2/3 of the book, really) lists quotes from politicians and pundits, and Beck’s arguments against what was said or written. The second part (the last third) sort of addresses the potential causes of gun violence (short version: video games).
On the whole, the book was OK. I wasn’t strongly swayed toward his side, and I only occasionally muttered “well that’s bullshit,” but I definitely took his points under consideration. This was hard at times, though: his most common response to quotes with which he disagreed was to dissect them, to return to the original study being cited and look for issues with it. For example: the claim that 40% of gun owners purchased a gun without a background check, which, if true, would indeed be troubling. Maybe it is true (I haven’t fact-checked anything Beck said in the book, and take all of his claims with a grain of salt), but Beck’s claim is that this commonly-cited number comes from a 1997 study based on a 1994 phone survey, and specifically from a question that only 251 people elected to answer. So: data that’s now almost 20 years old, from an incredibly small data set, and the percentage was rounded up from 35.7 to 40.
Now, like I said, I haven’t fact-checked any of this, but if true, that’s a pretty crappy piece of data to still be using to make arguments. My problem with the book, though, is that Beck makes the same mistake that he points out on this and many other stats and quotes: he mentions some percentage or number or generalization, without mentioning how old the data is, how many data points were available, or what wording was used for the question. To his credit, this was not always true, and in many cases he was very explicit about the data he was citing.
There’s going to be a certain amount of internal inconsistency like this (or outright hypocrisy) in any book, but it certainly detracts from the author’s ability to make a compelling case. I didn’t note many passages as I was reading, but here’s one in a similar vain that struck me. From page 121 of the paperback edition:
Just as good parents don’t leave their children with unfettered access to pornography, good parents would never let their kid play a game where the goal is to commit increasingly heinous violent acts so you can move up the ranks of a criminal organization.
It does not mean, of course, that everyone who plays a game like Grand Theft Auto will become a spree killer, just as 90 percent of lifelong smokers will never get lung cancer. Unfortunately, this has become one of the most effective excuses of those who defend the industry: “I played all of those games and I’ve never killed anyone,” they say.
It’s hard to tell from print alone, but Beck seems to say this without even a hint of irony. How many times have we heard people say things like “There are 300 million guns in America, but only a tiny percentage of those will be used in a crime.” You can’t dismiss one of these statements while using the other to make your case.
The paragraph immediately following those quoted above seems to actually make a pretty good case against what he’s been trying to say:
That, of course, is true: most people who play violent games or watch violent TV don’t commit violent acts. But that’s not the way reasonable people look at an issue. Most people who fly in airplanes never die—but that doesn’t mean we stop trying to improve aviation safety or never explore the causes of the rare accidents that do occur.
Bingo. Reasonable people, as you say, look at an issue and wonder how we can improve something. This is exactly why I get so pissed about the “cars kill more people than guns” argument, and the “criminals won’t follow gun laws anyway so they just inconvenience law-abiding people” arguments. Yes, there are more lethal killers than guns. Yes, criminals will do what they do with (some measure of) disregard for the law. Most gun owners never use it to shoot someone else. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to improve things.
That said, I did agree with Beck on some things, but probably on things where there really isn’t any debate. From page 155:
Here’s one example: When purchasing a gun from a licensed dealer, a buyer must fill out ATF form 4473 for a background check. Lying on this form is a felony punishable by up to ten years in prison. According to a report done for the Department of Justice, 72,600 people lied on this form in 2010 alone. Of those, “prosecutors pursued just 44.” Not 44 percent: 44 total cases. In other words, only .06 percent of all people who committed this felony by lying on an ATF form were prosecuted. Does something about that seem wrong to you?
Agreed. We should do something about that. Immediately following:
Given how badly most gun control advocates want to expand the background check system, it might be nice if we first pushed to fix the system we have. After all, if we don’t prosecute those who lie on this form, then what is the point of the form? People with a clear issue in their part will just lie and hope for the best, while everyone else still has to go through the motions.
When the NRA brought these lack of prosecutions up to Joe Biden, they reported that he responded by saying, “[W]e simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately.”
You don’t have the time? To enforce the law? To prosecute felons?
This is where Beck and I look at the same problem, but I suspect we come to different conclusions. His seems to be that we should enforce the laws already on the books, and I agree. And he doesn’t explicitly mention this, but I think he just accidentally made the case for a stronger ATF with a larger budget. This doesn’t come up in the book, but my understanding of Beck’s position on ATF funding is that he would probably be against growing it, but how else are we to enforce the laws we’ve already got? Furthermore, any new legislation around the background check system would presumably come with some budget stipulations that would ensure that that background check system, NCIS, is properly funded: he mentions on the next page that from 2009 to 2011, Congress has “appropriated just 5.3 percent of the total authorized amount” for NCIS. I agree that we should fix this; will he agree to spending tax dollars to do so?
And finally, there was one passage that kind of took me by surprise. On page 157, he mentions one instance of putting an armed police officer in a school:
Finally, I do believe that putting armed and trained officers in our schools will help save lives. In Simpsonville, South Carolina, a town of about eighteen thousand, an officer who previously worked in a community service office relocated his desk to the elementary school. “All I needed from the school is a desk and Wi-Fi,” the officer said. “[I]t didn’t cost a dime.”
So far, the teachers love it, the kids love the officer and give him high fives every day, and the parents feel safer. As he told NBC News, in explaining why he made the move, “I’d rather be here and not be needed, than be needed and not be here.”
That…is a pretty great idea that never even crossed my mind. If a school has a desk available, and there’s a local cop with a job that can be done from there, having that officer working there—and not standing out front like a storm trooper—seems like a pretty good middle ground.
Anyway, in conclusion: I wouldn’t bother buying this book. You can have my copy if you really want to read it. Parts were interesting, like the anecdote about the cop in Simpsonville, but on the whole, I didn’t have particularly strong feelings either way.
Everyone harbors some measure of hypocrisy about something; it’s human nature. Others have pointed out how unnecessary and foolish it is to condemn hypocrisy in others while doing our best to minimize it in ourselves. It happens. We’re human.
I realized this afternoon that there’s some fundamental hypocrisy on both sides of the aisle about two issues that are important to me: gun control, and social welfare programs.
The stereotypically conservative view is that the ownership of firearms is a God-given right, put right there in the Constitution, and that they should be available to law-abiding citizens without many strings attached, because people (aside from a few) are responsible, and should not be restricted from owning guns due to the dangerous actions of a few. At the same time, welfare programs are a waste of money, because people do nothing to improve their lot in life, and just live off the government, sapping away hard-earned dollars reclaimed from others.
The stereotypically liberal view is that firearms have their place, but are too dangerous to be entrusted to anyone who wants one, without some kind of regulation in place to ensure that those buying the guns have exhibited a proficiency and responsibility in using them, or have some need to carry one (such as security guards and what have you). At the same time, we should support the poorest among us, and try to ensure that no one goes hungry, or lives on the streets, or dies from treatable illness or injury, because a couple strokes of bad luck could put any one of us in that position.
The prototypical conservative assumes the best of the gun owner, and the worst of the poor; the prototypical liberal, the opposite.
Reality is not so clear-cut, but in sweeping generalizations, I think these competing mindsets lead to a lot more division than necessary.
A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.
The bill grew out of a federal lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In the lawsuit, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.
I’m really curious about the overlap of “People who think it’s OK for North Carolina to establish a state religion in violation of the Constitution,” and, “People who think that state-level gun control is a violation of the Constitution.”
When I’m looking to buy something, I want to buy the best I can get for the money I have to spend. This is true of everyone, really, but it seems that geeks take to it with an uncommon zeal. For example, I know several programmers who dabble in photography, and it seemed that every one of them went straight from the basic point-and-click, to dropping a couple grand on a DSLR with a few lenses and who knows what else. Without much prior experience in photography, they immersed themselves in the available resources and researched all the possible options, and went for pro-level (or prosumer, I suppose) cameras. And, incidentally, they take some incredible photos with said.
I came of age during a time in computing when doing this kind of research was easy. You pretty much had to choose between Intel and AMD. The processor speed was clearly indicated in megahertz. A Pentium III would be faster than a Pentium II. 256 megabytes of ram was better than 128. You just got the highest numbers you could for your budget, because there weren’t multi-core processors, or different memory speeds, or SSDs, or anything else. The graphics card was probably the toughest decision to make, but even those had a specific amount of memory.
Just as things in the Wintel world started getting complicated—when they stopped using regular numbers for processors and made it all weird—I switched to Mac laptops, so I really only had one decision to make: pick a screen size, then customize it to the extent my budget allowed. At this point in my life, that works for me: I know how long I can agonize over different options when presented with too many of them, so it’s best if I just avoid having those options to consider. The Mac lineup is started to have that problem for me again, though: retina screen or regular resolution? Regular Macbook Pro, or Air? Core i5, or i7? (Is that going to matter for me? I have no idea.) This is why it’s sometimes best for me to just decide, “I’m buying a thing today,” and then drive to a store that stocks a couple of them and just pick one.
This point was driven home just yesterday. I’d like to get some camping gear: having just moved from DC to Denver, there’s a lot fewer people and a lot more space, so it’s reasonable to find a quiet camping spot without having to drive four hours out of the city. I pulled up the list of tents on REI.com, examined it thoughtfully for a minute or two, and politely closed the window because I had no idea what I was looking at.
I spent several years in Boy Scouts and went on a handful of camping trips, but all I really learned is that it sucks when it rains. I don’t know what I need now! I suppose we need a two-person tent, though having a bit more space is never a bad thing. Do I need a four-season? Probably not, we won’t be camping in the snow. They come with two doors now? What’s the difference between backpacking and mountaineering? What are combi poles? Do I want that or a pole hub? Why do some of these look like they were designed by Frank Gehry?
The customer reviews don’t help me any. I can check them out on REI.com, but a lot of the tents don’t have any reviews, so I could look up the same tents on Amazon to see what people there are saying, but then maybe I should also search forums to look for horror stories…
And then I remember: you are not a camper! You idiot! You will drive your car to some campground, and pitch your tent within 10 yards of that car, and it will be warm outside because otherwise you wouldn’t be there in the first place. If a couple trips like that go well, THEN we can worry about getting a smaller, lighter one for actually hiking in somewhere to make camp, but to worry about that now is just stupid (or “aspirational” if you want to put a more positive spin on it).
And so, I will ultimately do what I know is best for me: I will drive to REI, and I will look at the tents they have there, and I will choose a cheap-ish one, and I will actually make plans to go camping instead of debating the merits of various tent-pole arrangements.
I’ve spent the past couple of evenings converting this blog from Drupal to Octopress, and while I’m still figuring out how best to work with it, I think this is a step in the right direction. If you subscribe to this blog in a feed reader, sorry about that: I’m sure you saw a bunch of posts show up again.
So, why the switch away from Drupal? Frankly, Drupal wasn’t the appropriate solution for my low-traffic personal blog. I switched from WordPress when I started working with Drupal a few years ago, in part so that I would have a “real” site to play with and get more familiar with the CMS. I thought that I could make good use of some modules, and create different content types for the different things I would post.
It was overkill. I had aspirational content types: I wrote one actual movie review. I had a few portfolio items, but didn’t keep my portfolio up to date. Instead, I was constantly getting notices from Dreamhost that my VPS had been restarted because Drupal pushed past the the memory limit I was willing to pay for. I mean, this blog gets 100 hits on a busy day: there’s absolutely no reason for me to pay more than $20 a month to host it, and I don’t like trying to do any more server setup than I have to so I didn’t want to both with Varnish caching. I’d rather just generate HTML and host it for free. I can manually build portfolio pages if I ever decide it’s really necessary.
So, BrockBoland.com is now on Github Pages, and GodlessInDC.com (the other site I had on that account) has been retired, since we never wrote there anyway. I didn’t have any luck getting other Ruby-based migration scripts working (presumably because MySQL is running from MAMP), so I just wrote a quick Drupal 7 module to dump blog posts in Jekyll format. I opted to go with Octopress instead of vanilla Jekyll, though to be honest, I don’t have a good reason why, aside from the fact that I wanted a pre-built responsive theme to save me the trouble. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far: I went with the Greyshade theme and made some tweaks. I’m especially happy to have all my blog posts right in Markdown files. Plain text really is the best way to store and backup things like this.
[Note: I wrote this a couple weeks ago, but couldn’t post it then because I was having issues with my webhost.]
Like a lot of other people, I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about (and often obnoxiously posting to Facebook about) guns in our culture.
I’ve said several times that I’m still not sure where exactly I come down on the issue, but I doubt anyone believes me based on everything else I’ve said. An outright ban on guns is out of the question, for obvious reasons. Banning assault rifles does little, since their usage pales in comparison to that of handguns. Limiting magazine size or reload-ability—like forcing manual loading like a pump shotgun—make some sense, if only to slow down attackers.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that no other industrialized country in the world approaches the levels of gun violence we see here. There must be something we can be doing better. Some people will point out that cars and cancer kill more people than guns—implying that they are a small matter in comparison—and while that may be true, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be working to reduce all needless deaths, regardless of cause.
Many people say that new gun regulation serves only to weaken the ability of law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves, since criminals are criminals, so they’re not going to abide by gun laws if they’re already breaking others. But, the illegally-owned guns used by criminals have to come from somewhere, and some number of them are stolen from the rightful owners and find their way into criminal’s hands.
What frustrates me most, though, is that support for gun rights is generally a conservative position, meaning that it often (not always) comes with a variety of other conservative positions…like an aversion to higher taxes or welfare programs of any kind. We can all agree that the people who go on shooting rampages are mentally ill, but the oft-conservative supporters of gun rights are also often opponents of socialized health care that could ensure that such people get the treatment they need. And, as some have pointed out, the mass-shootings account for a low percentage of violent crimes; the more pedestrian, every day violence comes from gang activity, armed robberies, muggers, etc. Surely, much of this is driven by economics: the poorest among us are the most likely to turn to crime to get by. Some base level of economic support would undercut the situations that lead people to those situations in the first place. Not all of them, of course, but it would help.
But, most of the people who want their guns aren’t willing to pitch in to support the poor or care for the sick—or at least, aren’t willing to trust the government to do so. I don’t necessarily blame them for that, but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. The argument I hear most is that we shouldn’t have to pay for deadbeats to get health insurance when they could just get a job (which is a whole topic unto itself) or pay for layabouts to leech off the government…but apparently, those same deadbeats and layabouts who aren’t responsible enough to make use of welfare programs only as needed are, at the same time, entirely capable of responsibly owning a firearm and should not be prohibited from doing so under any circumstances.
The solutions that have been proposed, like allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons, or encouraging more citizens to do so all the time—I don’t see these ending well. If our best solution to society’s ills is to fight fire with fire, literally, then we’re doing something wrong. I can’t help but see this becoming an arms race: people worry that the government will restrict gun purchases, so they buy more guns. More make it into the hands of criminals, so more people start carrying. More shootings wind up happening, so even MORE people arm themselves. I have trouble seeing how this doesn’t lead to some kind of futuristic sci-fi film where society is on the brink of post-apocalyptic dystopia. As much as I pride myself on being an optimist, I am thankful I’m not raising kids, because I really worry about where this is all going to wind up in a couple decades.
Anyway. This was an interesting article from a guy with real background: An opinion on gun control. I don’t agree with a lot of it, but he’s obviously better informed than I.
(For those who haven’t heard, Erin and I are in the middle of moving to Denver so that she can attend gSchool)
In the past few years, I felt most at “home” in DC while riding in a cab from some transit hub back to my apartment. Before 2009 or so, taking a cab seemed like such an extravagance—since I had no money to spare, really—so my returns to DC would be underground on the Metro. But in recent years, those trips home from DCA after a trip to Michigan or Buffalo, Portland or overseas, or just coming from Union Station after a weekend in Philly or concert in Baltimore—it was like seeing the city anew again. Without a car, I never drove across town like that except when coming home, so I never became jaded to the sights along the way. That felt like coming home, to me.
But even then, DC never quite felt like home. I lived in the area for seven years: the first 18 months in Arlington, and in the District for the remainder. I lived in two different apartments in Arlington, and five in DC (all but one of those with Erin), so I feel like I got a pretty good sample of the area in that regard, but none of them ever really, truly felt like home.
I moved to DC expecting to stay maybe three years, four or five at the absolute most. That seemed to be how things worked, based on what I’d heard from college friends living in the area: people worked there for a bit, then moved on with their lives somewhere else. Those college friends were the only reason that I even moved there. DC was never on my agenda, after all, but there was work and there were friends, so that’s where I wound up after college. In the time since, those people have all moved away, to Seattle and Austin, New York and Raleigh, and some just to the western fringe of the metro area, an hour’s drive away in good traffic. Even more college friends have moved to the area in the time since I did; again, some of them have moved away. A few are still in the area—for how long, I can’t say—and another has returned to put down roots, after growing up nearby and then moving out west. Other friends that we made while in DC have moved back to Boston and Australia.
That migration and shifting of college friends played a larger part in my relationship with the area than I thought it would, or even realized that it had, until I sat down to think about it. The first couple years were all fun and games: like a small extension of college, with out-of-town friends coming to visit now and then. Then, we all grew up a bit, started getting married and having kids and moving out of town, and the social circle that I had considered to be my DC tribe quickly dissolved and dissipated in all directions. I am still friends with the people I was friends with then, and have made friends since, but I’m not nearly as close to anyone as I was to lots of people five years ago.
All of this adds up to my feeling that DC was never home for me, not really. I have friends there and I have Erin, but looking back, I never really felt like I belonged there. Ultimately, this served only to do me a disservice: for seven years, it felt like a place I was staying only while waiting for the next part of my life to begin. I never fully took advantage of the opportunities that are on offer when you live in the nation’s capital. I visited most of the Smithsonian museums, but only once, and none in the past year or two. I saw the major monuments and memorials, but again: only once, when someone was visiting from out of town, and not in some time. I never really got to know Georgetown or H Street or even Dupont Circle, let alone the neighborhoods that host less nightlife. I never did make it to Great Falls or Rehoboth Beach.
In short, I failed to take advantage of where I lived.
And so, I leave DC with regrets, but I also leave DC happily. I did not seize every day that I lived there, but I also never really felt like I should have been there in the first place. I am excited to try a new city. I know that Erin is a lot more apprehensive about this change than I am, and while I will certainly miss our friends in DC, I have no qualms at all about leaving the city behind to spend some time in Denver. I have been ready for a change and ready for something new, and the little bit that I have seen of Denver and the surrounding area has shown me that this will be some kind of change and some kind of new. I know that it is up to me—up to both of us—to take full advantage of the area while we can, especially since we don’t even yet know if we will be here for more than six months. I have started a list of bars and restaurants and attractions and day trips that have been recommended since we announced that we’d be moving: for the next six months, I intend to scratch one off every time we say “what do you want to do for dinner?” or “what should we do this weekend?”
Frankly, I’m also using this as an opportunity to take back some of my weekends and evenings. I don’t really feel like I’ve accomplished much in my personal time in a good long while. I spend my weeknights and Saturday afternoons poking at Omnifocus, feeling guilty about the things I should be doing on some project or community initiative, but feeling uninspired to do them. This move was the kick in the pants to start changing that: if nothing else, I had to give up helping to organize the DC Drupal meetup group. It’s not like I was spending that much time on it anyway, but I’m one of those insufferable people who feels like they should be doing something, and then wiles away the time agonizing about it instead of just doing something else instead. I intend to start withdrawing from other aspects of the Drupal community in the coming months as well: for example, I recently marked all my modules on drupal.org as seeking co-maintainers, because I do not want to commit any time to maintaining them for the time being. Instead, I want to use my nights and weekends to explore Denver and the surrounding areas, and to work on projects that I actually want to work on, not those that I feel I must work on.
My mother has always told me to live without regrets, and I try. I regret that I’ve left DC with regrets—if that makes sense—but I am thankful for this push that has caused me to make some changes, because it’s what I needed more than anything else.