I'm sitting in my office at VSU, listening to Tom Waits, thinking about my friend Bob Hicok at Virginia Tech. I was teaching his poems to my students yesterday, distracted with worry, so I read them badly. Sorry, Bob. Such tragedy hits us all, wakes us to the fact that, every day, we deal with trouble, with stress, with human beings, some of whom are broken or breaking. Sometimes, the crush of school puts them out, and they wander off to find work or solace elsewhere, some bar, some other city. To hear that the shooter was an English major, frankly, surprised me at first, and then it didn't. Young writers are given to violence as a way to end things in their stories. It's something I have to caution against because it's almost always too easy an ending, like the dream--wake up, everything's ok!-- and yet dwelling on violence is supposed to be a sign of creativity, so some experts say. It never surprises me when I read it in the work of beginners. But I do worry about my students when I read their writing and I know it's too real. I only hope that getting it out helps get it outside so they can look at it. So they can shape it and feel a kind of control over it once it's outside. Craft compels this. Craft is control, is self-control, after the creative/destructive blurting that most art begins as.
The media are another kind of control. Instant blame. Instant expertise. Instant mythology. Fear, fear, fear. I watched some of it, the endless what-they-should've-done-ing that pretends we don't live in a country that loves guns more than we love civility. All I can do is push for civility, keep my door open anyway, and know that hiding in my office or asking the University President to hire more people with guns isn't going to make a difference. You put 10,000 people together in our gun-addled culture, someone's gonna go off. Once when I was visiting Fresno about ten years ago, a car full of young men, teenagers, pulled away from my parents' neighbor's house. Kid riding shotgun pointed his finger at me as they rode past, said, "pop, pop, pop." Laughed. This is a sad, simple, awful story, one that will be told again, I'm afraid, soon enough. Pop, pop, pop. But my door is still open.