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Talking into a black hole

Talking into a black hole

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Dear Governor Ducey,

As a member of Generation X, I love irony. I love how nothing seems to fit together like our parents told us it would. There are puzzles where half the pieces seem to have been jigsawed by angry squirrels. Nothing adds up—and there’s no end game. You’d think I would be better prepared for the unbelievability of this fall but I’m still struck, surprised by the absolute absurdity of it all. I’m sitting on my deck, writing you again, for the three hundredth time to a weekly magazine that has gone online because all the events the weekly usually alerts Flagstaffians about have been postponed for so long that no one knows if they’ll come back. The Orpheum is running “Save the Stage” campaigns. I don’t know what The Green Room or Firecreek are doing. What music will we listen to? If the venues don’t survive, in what dark room will we sing and dance? If Flag Live isn’t in print, how will we know when the dark rooms open again? It’s like sending my letters every week—into a dark abyss they go. No reply, five and a half years after I sent you the first letter.

I wanted to write this letter to students but I’m not sure they’re online Googling “Letters to Ducey” as their extracurricular assignments. I wanted to tell the students, please, for the love of God, turn your cameras on when you’re in class. Talking to a black box with a name on it feels like talking into a black hole. It’s not only like talking to no one. The idea that there might be someone on the other line, maybe listening, maybe not, maybe caring, maybe not, sucks your soul out of your body. Do you know from Harry Potter the Dementors? Those creepy creatures that look like death itself who Voldemort dispersed across the land to look for Harry? One of them overtook Harry, sucking out his soul, making him feel as hopeless and alone as anyone could feel. That’s how Zoom with the camera off feels. Dear students, please don’t make us feel Demented!

In pleading with students to turn their cameras on, all the futility of these past five years floods back to me. Trying to convince people to vote. Trying to convince people to fund education. Trying to convince people to stop idling their cars. Trying to stop you, Dear Ducey, from installing right wing judges who overturn ballot initiatives voted in by citizens. Trying to convince you do to something about the water that is no longer coming to Phoenix, or to Flagstaff, for that matter. Trying to convince people to shop local—which didn’t work. The Flagstaff Farmers Market on Fourth is already gone.

I’m sitting outside on Oct. 5. My tomato plants are still endeavoring to turn their final green orbs red. The contrast: It is so beautiful right now. The yellowing leaves of the honey locusts and the aspens against the green of the ponderosas. But it shouldn’t be this warm in October. It shouldn’t be this dry this year. I shouldn’t have to beg my students to turn on their Zoom cameras. We could have been close to normal now. My dear friend Gretchen, who left teaching here in barely-minimum-wage-paying Arizona for Germany, has been back in school from the beginning of the year. Germany seems to have discovered that leading people into a future that is healthy and concerned about its fellow citizens, that has turned coal plant after coal plant off because of their commitment to combatting climate change, is a better plan than destroying its citizens. Germany isn’t perfect. The Alt-Right groups are growing there too—but it’s not Angela Merkel who inspires them. They look to the US for ways to see how white-collar crime committed by white people is rarely prosecuted. There must be something to that white supremacy thing if white people are hardly ever put in jail for those illegal things they do. Some might call it systemic racism, but if you’re not at risk of being shot by the police for driving your car, maybe you’d prefer to imagine that it is your God-given right to get away with murder.

Meanwhile, the rest of us sit in front of our screens, looking deep into the black boxes, hoping there is something solid and substantial, somewhere to sing and dance, on the other side. 

Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit


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