Darkness in Nova Scotia

A riff on Nova Scotia’s provincial flag: one extra lion for solace. Sad times. An outrage. (by Halifax artist James Neish)

                                 [4-minute read]

I’ve been circling around this all day. All week, really, ever since I heard the first grim (single-digit dead) reports last weekend. Lemme guess, white guy with grievances? Women not giving him the respect he so deeply deserves? Kills himself so he doesn’t face the music?

I had, purposely and studiously, paid little attention to the details of the story. Scared to. Not another one. I didn’t want to know more. Not only would I refuse to name the Damaged Denturist – a personal rule – I actually didn’t know the jerkwad’s name, this morning at 4:43 a.m., when I began obsessively turning over in my mind the few facts I knew. Death toll 23. Rural Nova Scotia. An RCMP officer is dead. There were fires and shootings and prolonged confusion. I tried hard to get back to sleep, but my brain was composing and couldn’t stop.

Sadness has flowed like the North Atlantic, but it’s as if the news has only intermittently, slowly breached the dikes of, what, my numbness? My fear of being overwhelmed? Isolation fatigue? Dread of another bout of Impotent Rage? (Yup, all that.) Whatever the why, one of the best stretches of sleep I’ve had in ages ended in a mid-night thought-cycle that I couldn’t escape. Maybe the first cracks opened last night, 6:28 p.m., as the CBC “World at Six” newscast ended with Nova Scotia fiddle queen Natalie McMaster scraping out “Amazing Grace” in a painful lament. She played for her province, her people, and it plumbed my own sorrow, too. All those innocent people.

Sadness was first through the barricades, but rage was right behind. These events are outrageous. I couldn’t sleep this morning because I was rehearsing ways to make words, to make sense, out of my anger. We’re a lot the same, this seething, violating numbskull and me, and I’m outraged by it. (Canadian. Educated. White. Male.) I ask, as I too often do, Why are men so goddamned WEAK? He shatters every blessed principle that any Brotherhood I’d want to belong to could possibly hold dear. Self-control. Humility. Endurance. Protectiveness. Humour. Dignity. Respect. Strength. Gentleness. Forbearance. Forgiveness. (Getting the hell over yourself and your petty disappointments, you shit!) I wasn’t planning on writing this AGAIN, but no doubt having it happen in Canada, in rural Nova Scotia, fergawdsakes!, has produced in me more than the usual disgust and dismay when cowardly men Just Won’t Take It Anymore, when they Take a Stand, when they imagine, in a fever-dream of phony heroism, that they arise to “take Arms against a Sea of troubles / And by opposing, end them…”

Hamlet was considering suicide there. It turns out this clown didn’t even have that much courage. What in overheated hell did he think he was ACCOMPLISHING? Because I have no doubt of this: at whatever level of deranged thought he was operating, the prick was riding an absolute tidal wave of we’re gettin’ some shit DONE here!

I wrote, in 2006, about a shameful creep who killed his family, then himself. (Friends: each of the links in this paragraph points to furious writing of mine, some of my best, but it’s painful; my feelings won’t be hurt if you pass by my meditations on terrible men, red-flagged as I am by them.) I wrote about Montreal, its twin tragedies of L’Ecole Polytechnique (those 14 women, my lord) and Dawson College. I found myself arguing that maybe we should rethink our views of youthful suicide; although there is always the danger of suicidal ideas going viral, only one person is lost. I wrote about the Virginia Tech murders, and my unfortunate decision to watch the telecast video of the perpetrator’s toxic spewing of resentment and murderous petulance. (And NBC’s decision to air it, my God!) I wrote more recently – we were still on our five-year sojourn in China – of the Germanwings air disaster, youthful lives snuffed by another Chickenshit Man taking the whole team down with him, and the self-indulgent horror of the Santa Barbara boy-man’s vomitous revenge. (That piece came strong. I write hard when I’m pissed.)

Part of the cost: Heidi Stevenson in the famous red serge uniform of the Mounties, with school kids. She left two of her own behind as well. Heroine. (CBC photo)

Rage is tiring. I didn’t write about Stoneman-Douglas High School, or the Las Vegas carnage, or the hate directed at mosques in Quebec and New Zealand, or at the Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Listen, there have been hundreds of other mass shootings just in the United States (God bless America, please) in this century. They’re almost always done by males. Men? Weak men. Damaged men. Resentful men, somehow unable to withstand the heat and stupid enough not to be able to find a way out of the kitchen. (And sometimes these people are utterly broken, it’s true, though I still find this fragility and this  particular response to it unforgivable, even from my safe distance. Yet some victims’ relatives are able to forgive. All praise! Bless ‘em.)

But here I am again, thinking of Nova Scotia, grieving for ruptured families and orphaned kids and an entire province torn from its moorings. One RCMP officer went down trying to stop the oh-so-calculating bastard, another was wounded, and unnamed others (with a little luck and sharp eyes) confronted and shot the “man” who didn’t have the guts to simply kill himself. Instead, he snuffed out 22 lives better than his, before the police finally did the job for him. In this context, the suicide of a depressed dentist with supervillain fantasies would have been a comparatively noble and selfless act, I uselessly suppose. Instead, he starts his own bloody war. (Congratulations! Now you’re a combat dentist!) Some “war”, pathetically and pitiably “fought” against “enemies” unarmed and unaware that a campaign had even begun – for the sole purpose of giving himself some creepy, dipshit satisfaction or retribution, to cry out I, Dirtbag Denturist, was here! I was a Man to Watch For! And then he forced someone else to end the apparently insufferable life that, despite all that insane and murderous planning, he could not.

Thoughts and prayers, yes. (No, actually praying, you can’t just say you are!) But we also have to be, and raise up, More Good Men, and not just a few…

Comments (3)

  1. Margery Cartwright

    You asked, at one point – “Why do men do it?” My response is, because they *can*. Our culture supports the emotion of anger in men.

    Another question from me has always been, “Why is there such silence from men when outrages occur?” Yes, of course, the usual public wordage, in press and TV. But what about the one woman killed every six days in Canada by her intimate partner, and the gorier and continuing outrages of male violence? Why is it up to women to organize the marches, the shelters, the workshops, the training, the lobbying of politicians for change, the seemingly endless struggle for gender equity and recognition?

    Why is the abuse and killing of women a “women’s issue”? Are the answers the same?

  2. michael freeman

    I have been trying to figure out whether to respond to this rant at all. I have never seen this type of language used by the writer before. I don’t really disagree with the sentiment, and I do agree that the individual who caused such carnage and pain in Nova Scotia deserves to be referred to in negative ways. But I count no fewer than 24 references that are significantly derogatory and judgemental. I am sure that the language chosen was for impact and illustration, but maybe it was just a bit over-the-top. Guys that commit atrocities that inflict pain and suffering on so many people doesn’t deserve public sympathy or empathy, if these are even possible. But what about an attempt to understand where his actions stem from? To understand the state of mind that he had reached when he began his rampage? To my knowledge no motive has been found. Without motive his actions look vile and disturbed and deranged and impulsive, and without justification of any kind for anyone who was of sane and sound mind.

    The writer of the article states that this man and himself aren’t that different from each other. The commonalties that he expresses are Canadian, educated, white, and male. To me those aren’t strong commonalities; nothing can be extrapolated from those tenuous connections. I would dare say that there are many many ways that these two individuals are very dissimilar. One question that comes to mind: Was this an act of suicide? Did this person do all of this violence and atrocity just so law enforcement officers would track him down and ultimately end his life? Why did he feel the need to involve 22 other people and all of their families and all of their friends in his violent demonstration and exit from this world? The act of suicide is a controversial topic. Does the person commit suicide or do they employ an act of suicide? A person does not come to suicide easily. Some believe that only after the fight is gone, the will to struggle is gone, all hope has disappeared, when even one more step forward seems all but impossible — that is when someone acquiesces to the act of suicide. Did the rampaging shooter in Nova Scotia reach this level of despair? Is suicide an act of cowardice, or is suicide an act employed by the desperate?

    In this article the author states that the rampaging shooter was a coward because he didn’t commit suicide. He could be a coward if he were to have committed suicide without involving others, and is also a coward because he involved 22 others. I don’t believe that someone that comes to the precipice of the drastic decision of suicide is thinking about cowardice at all. What’s going through one’s mind at that particular time is the question of how and when and how it will affect the people around the person. For example, a person who decides to commit suicide using a gun that they have in their closet may think about how their suicide using that gun will affect the family member who was the previous owner of that gun and gifted it on. That would shatter the life of the family member. Maybe the realization of how it would affect that family member is the only thing that would keep the person contemplating suicide from carrying through with the plan. Suicide is the desperate act of a desperate person. When all rationality is lost. People committing suicide edge their toes ever closer to the razor’s edge between life and death. No one can understand that very tenuous walk unless their toes have been on that edge.

    What could take a person to such a level of despair where they envision that this level of pain and atrocity is even remotely sane? I think therein lies the answer. The person was no longer acting out of sanity. All rationality had left. The individual was listening to his desperation. I have no sympathy for this man. I have no empathy for this man. But I do believe that unless we try to understand his motive, state of mind and the circumstances which led up to this culminating act of atrocity, we will be woefully unprepared to help others before they come to putting their toes on that line.

    • The other question I’ve been asked is, “But why are you so *angry*?” I am trying to figure this out, but it’s organic. Mr. Freeman must have forgotten: he did read and comment upon *this* profane rant about another shooter: The whole question of cowardice is interesting to me. I think Freeman is right, that suicide stems from a desperation deeper than I’ve ever known, certainly,
      which makes me question my old belief that it was cowardly to do so. My speculation in this piece is that (obviously, from the point of view of the wider community) a simple suicide would have been a relatively brave action
      compared to that of murdering the helpless until somebody stopped him and ended whatever misery he was unable to bear. (But God *damn* it! Men still have to step up, and speak out about the weaknesses that afflict us.)

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