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As research for several writing projects, and as part of my friend's bachelorette party, this past weekend I went to Target Sports Canada, a firing range in Markham, Ontario.

From L to R: 9 mm, .40 cal, .45 cal, 12 gauge shotgun
From L to R: 9 mm, .40 cal, .45 cal, 12 gauge shotgun

 

Now, I'm Canadian, and I grew up in Toronto. I've never had cause to own or use a gun, and I don't really understand the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution as a solution to gun violence. Guns seem cool in movies and TV, but when you're in a room with a live firearm, you suddenly earn a whole lot more respect for the weapon and for the people trained to use them...and a lot more fear for those who aren't trained to use them, and those who use them to commit violent acts.

I wasn't sure what to expect crowd-wise. We were told weekends were very busy, and that if we wanted in, we should line up at 9:30 before the 10 a.m. opening. We were the first ones there, but the lineup grew quickly. Popular, indeed; the clients were from diverse backgrounds, including many young people and lots of couples, many of them new to handling firearms. Members have an exclusive time slot for practicing.

After signing waiver forms, we were sent to a classroom for a fifteen-minute safety course that went over the basics of handling a handgun and all the precautions we'd need to take on the range. It didn't hit me until the instructor efficiently started checking the unloaded demo handguns that we were about to handle deadly weapons, and that if there was some crazy person among us, we couldn't do a thing to prevent a mass shooting. My friends and I sobered quickly.

After the class, we were assigned a range officer who helped us choose what kinds of guns we'd like to try, and ordered rounds of ammo on a sheet that reminded me of a dim sum menu. They didn't have a rifle available, and I'd hope to try a Colt revolver; unfortunately, they were out of ammunition, or the firearm was out of service.

In the end, we split the ammo among the three of us to use with different handguns: 100 rounds of 9 mm, 50 rounds of .40 cal, 50 rounds of .45 cal (we were told this is what the police use) and 15 rounds of 12 gauge cartridges for a shotgun. The total price for all this, plus instruction: $305.00 CDN.

Eye gear and ear protectors were absolute musts. The company provided those. I was struck by the number of precautions we had to take, from the double doors to the firing range, to the vigilance of the employees and range officers. They were all very helpful and friendly, but I got the sense they were always alert.

On the range, our RO set up the guns—each had a combination lock attached--and then set the targets up. Just like on TV, we were staring down a long, somewhat dimly lit concrete room with automated clotheslines that moved the paper targets back and forth. Our targets were set up only about ten feet away, though they seemed a lot closer. The space was well ventilated by necessity: a faint odor like burning metal permeated the air, and we were informed in the class and on the waivers that discharging firearms would expose you to lead.

I don't know that I could ever fully express what handling and firing a 9 mm was like for the first time. I'd watched my bride-to-be friend do it first, and I was shocked by how loud it was even through the ear protectors. I've always thought that a 9 mm bullet wouldn't be as much of a kick as anything larger, but the percussive force of those first few shots shook my bones. The other bridesmaid and I had our hands over our ear phones as we watched our friend work through 33 rounds of 9 mm. Our RO was patient, considering how long we took lining up our shots and trying not to flinch from the gun.

When it came to my turn, I became superaware of every movement I made. Picking up the handgun as we were taught in the class, high on the grip with our fingers against the slide so we didn't touch the trigger or the guard; making sure I was always controlling the direction of the muzzle so it pointed toward the range and not anywhere else. It was nerve-racking, and I was so scared of breaking those rules, I started forgetting them. The RO kept me in line, though.

The clips lay in front of me. My gun was already loaded. I picked it. It was about as heavy as the demo version, but the weight of the responsibility I had was a lot heavier. The tremble in my hand was unmistakable. I'd read and researched a lot about guns over the years for various projects, but all that knowledge wasn't going to help me be confident.

Breathing. That was the key, I seemed to remember. And don't lean back.

It's hard not to lean away from the deadly weapon in your hands.

I kept my thumbs crossed on the left side of the grip, as instructed. The last thing I wanted was to break my thumb with the action of the slide. Feet planted, right one back, lean forward. Sight along the three points on the top the gun.

When you're ready, move your finger to the guard. Find the trigger.

Squeeze.

That moment is seared into my brain. The force of the backfire made my arms jump, but not as hard as I thought it would. The flash of fire and smoke coming from the chamber startled me, and for the briefest moment, I thought my vision was a little gray. I smelled something like burning metal, like when you leave a dry pot on the stove accidentally and the pot starts smoking—cordite, I realized, just like in books. The sound at that range is like nothing you've heard in the movies. It's like a balloon popping inside an empty filing cabinet inside your skull, pumped up to, like, 100. Most startling of all, I felt the force of the gunshot in my teeth. The comparison to a kick in the head is not too far from the truth, though it seemed to have come from a Smurf lodged in my molars.

I took a breath and glanced over the top of the gun to see a hole in the target close to center mass. There, I'd broken the gun hymen. I still had 32 rounds of 9mm to tackle.

It got easier with each pull of the trigger, but I had to remind myself to sight using my right eye only. By the second clip, I told myself, "You have control, now. Don't be afraid." So I leaned a little closer, breathed a little more deeply. Told myself that this was not a life or death situation, and that this was just for fun.

I just couldn't forget that I had a deadly weapon.

The brass casings ejected from the chamber with each pull of the trigger flew everywhere, hitting me in the head and back and arms. Long sleeves, high necklines and a cap of some kind really are the order of the day. The instructor said sometimes a shell can fly down your shirt, and hot brass against skin isn't fun. By the end, the casings littered the ground like peanut shells at a bar. I actually slid-walked so I didn't accidentally step on one and fall. I'm kind of a klutz that way, and klutzes and guns aren't a great combination.

The .40 cal gun had just a bit more kick, the .45 cal a little more so. Those took a little more time aiming, a little more care handling. I thought I could see more smoke and a brighter flash with the higher calibers, too. In the back of my mind, though, I realized there was no real difference between a 9 mm and a .45 cal if I made a mistake and accidentally shot someone. Even so, my confidence handling the weapons increased. And my perforated targets made me feel...not powerful, which is what I hear all the time in books and on TV. But proud.

Then we came to the shotgun. The RO showed us quickly how to handle the weapon. We'd just watched our neighbors on either side of the range use them, too. The 13-year-old boy with his father in the range next to us was quite afraid to use it, though his RO egged him on, telling him it was a freebie for his birthday. His father pushed him to do it, too, but the kid was obviously hesitant. "Be a man," his dad told him a little more harshly than I thought was strictly necessary for the kid's birthday. "I won't judge you any less for it, kid," I told him sincerely, smiling at his dad. "I understand peer pressure." The bashful birthday boy fired off one round with the shotgun. It looked like he kinda hurt afterwards, but was grateful he'd did it.

I wrapped my scarf around me so that there'd be a little more padding on my right shoulder, where the butt of the stock would be snugged. Left hand on the pump, right hand on the trigger guard, elbow tight against the body, cheek against the stock...only, I don't have much structure to my face, so it was get as close as possible so I can see the sights.

The shotgun was a lot heavier than I'd expected, but I hugged the thing close, remembering all those stories about dislocated shoulders and bruising. Taking my time, I aimed, breathed, aimed some more.

Breathe.

Squeeze.

If I thought the 9 mm was percussive, the shotgun felt like being punched in the shoulder by a large, angry eighth grader. It hurt, but not that much, and it kinda made me scared and mad all at once.

"Pump it," the RO said. I did, and the finger-sized red cartridge hopped out. The slide action of the shotgun's pump was a lot smoother and easier than I thought it'd be, and it made me wonder later why Sarah Conner at the end of T2 had to do it one-handed. (I can't remember, was her left arm sprained? If it was, I don't see how she could have handled the shotgun, but maybe someone with more experience can chime in.)

Five rounds later, my zombie-head target was mostly a hole. I was quite proud, albeit a little sore. There's still a bruise on my left knuckle from the kickback. As I placed the shotgun down, I accidentally brushed the barrel. It was HOT. Note to self: do not touch a recently fired gun.

After we were done, we immediately went to wash our hands, as instructed, to get rid of any lead that we might have exposed our hands to. We agreed the trip to the firing range was an excellent experience, and one to check off on the bucket list. If I had the disposable income, I could see how this could be a fun hobby. But I still have no compunction to own a gun. Having been given that kind of power and responsibility for however briefly, even in a controlled environment, gave me a glimpse of understanding for what gun ownership really entails. Treating a gun trivially just seems like a recipe for disaster.

Actual conversation with the husband:

John: Man, the ferry service from the Bruce Peninsula to Manitoulin Island has been delayed because of low water levels. Thanks, global climate change.

Me: Aww, poor boo. Don't worry, I'll go fill it up. I'll bring a garden hose.

John: Or you could bring five.

Me: I could!

John: Or you could bring five hundred hoses! It'll fill up a million times faster!

Me: I don't get your math. But if I had a million hoses, I could turned them all on one at a time and by the time I got to the last one, I'd have to start turning them off.

John: If you had the Flash helping you, that could work.

Me: I'll get five Flashes! Flash, Kid Flash, Reverse Flash, Quicksilver...and...uh...Superman. Because Superman tied in that famous race against the Flash.

John: *stares*

Me: It's true! I own that issue! It was great.

John: Well, I guess. Except I think Superman might be busy.

Me: Supergirl will do in a pinch.

John: That's sexist.

Me: Well, maybe she's busy!

John: Doing what? Cooking in the kitchen, watching the kids and make 70 cents to Clark Kent's dollar?

Me: Yeah, that Superman versus Supergirl in the workforce extravaganza issue didn't do so well in sales for DC.

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I've never been very arts-and-crafty outside of illustration and design and painting. Knitting, sewing, and any craft that involves cloth or string has been the bane of my existence, though I did manage to get my sewing machine license back in Home Ec. class in grade 7.

Now, though, thanks to the patient tutelage of my colleague Owlswakeup (who sews awesome purses, bags and clutches and has a cool etsy store), I've been learning the craft of crocheting. Only half as confusing as knitting, in my opinion, since there's only one hook to worry about.

It hasn't been easy. The ultimate goal to is make a snowflake, but right now, I'm practicing my tension and remembering to count by making ugly scarves of single and double crochet. I can safely say, however, that I am well and truly hooked (har har) and now have three ugly scarves on the go.

It seems it took a long time to get to this point. During my first  "project", I worked with no specific goal in mind and no pattern, crocheting randomly until I somehow produced...an ear.

Crochet ear
What the...

 

Next, I tried it again, and got a slice of brain.

What the...?
How did you...?

 

Then...this curly spleen.

I don't even...
I don't even...

 

"Your tension is different all over the place," my mother said. "That's why it's all curly." Owlswakeup agreed.

I was determined to crochet a straight line. Several straight lines. Why, I might even end up with a square!

No. It wasn't a square. In fact, against all rules of crocheting, it was turning into a triangle.

STAHP...
STAHP...

 

I decided I had to have some goal to work towards. A scarf, I decided! That would make me focus! That would make me keep count.

As I crocheted in my slow, picking, too-tight, amateurish way, starting with 25 stitches, I got along about three inches when I suddenly realized I was down to 21 stitches. My mother-in-law advised I add on a chain at the end. Of course! I was skipping this crucial step. Things went a little more smoothly after that. Finally, I was getting somewhere. I made a very lumpy, uneven, shoddily edged scarf for my husband...that was barely long enough to cover his neck. Guess I should have saved that ear, brain, spleen and cat rag to give it just a little more length.

The mark of true love: my husband wore it anyhow.

True love, ugly scarf

 

 

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Yesterday was my birthday. It was awesome.

First off, it was a half-day Friday at work. When I arrived, my breakfast of champions awaited.

Sour cream and onion rings (which I can only eat once a year, on my birthday) and peanut butter cups (because I need protein). So disgustlicious.

I ordered pizza for lunch to share with my coworkers. Because eating pizza on your own is no fun.

Once work was over, I went to FanExpo. I was apprehensive, because the last time I went in 2010, I waited 2 hours in line in the heat. They had some serious crowd control this time, though. I was quite pleased that they managed to stagger and spread out the people going in and out without too much hassle, despite having to walk around the block and into the bowels of the earth to buy tickets. Inefficient, but effective.

There was some real quality stuff this year in the Artist's Alley, my favorite area. Check out these links for some of the cool vendors that attended:

www.wiretoweave.com: shoulder-perching puppets of awesomeness.

www.pinznthingz.com: where I bought awesome robot earrings. Though I was very tempted by these.

www.visualonestudios.com: for these awesomely mind-warping 2-D-looking handbags that seem ripped from a cartoon.

www.mooka.ca: for awesome natural handmade soaps, shaped just like Han Solo in carbonite.

www.ninedirections.com: for if you ever want to learn how to be an awesome ninja--go to ninja camp and learn how to forge mental, carve wood, meditation, martial arts and more!

In the end, I bought 4 T-shirts, a pair of robot earrings, and this crocheted hat of awesomeness.

I also met Gavin Blair, one of the creators of Reboot, one of my favorite childhood shows.

After FanExpo, I had dinner with the hubby at Pure Spirits in the Distillery District. The weather was perfect for sitting on the patio. I love me some raw oysters. Especially if I can eat them while wearing my awesome new hat.

What do you do on your birthday? Do you spoil yourself? Take it easy? Party like it's the last time you'll ever party and regret it the next day? Comment below!

Wynne Channing, author of What Kills Me, is hosting a tournament of monsters, and I've got my contender ready to duke it out for top spot in the Monster Mash championship!

KOH THE FACE STEALER from Avatar: The Last Airbender can outscare a clown any day. You know why? Because one little smile from that red-nosed freak and he'll STEAL HIS FACE.

Visit http://wynnechanning.wordpress.com/2012/07/19/tournament-of-monsters-your-defenders/ for more details on how you can crown your pick for scariest monster!