Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Writer's Block

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.


Queen Whackamole said...

An interesting perspective... I imagine a lot of creative writing teachers are looking at their students differently today...

liz_w said...

The "I still believe in the right to bear arms" attitude in the face of all this is stubborn idiocy. It seems that the most obvious preventative measure we can take is the one that will never happen here. Sure, it's not foolproof, but at least a troubled student couldn't walk into a gunshow and purchase his weapon of choice, and then turn on a community that had, at least in some small way, tried to push him to get help when he desperately needed it. Obviously, a cultural change is going to have to precede a major change in gun laws, though.

But yes, you're right -- the event is yet another frightening mirror into our own culture. Outside the US, people hear about these events and think, yet another shooting. Yet another nutcase in America, solving intangible problems with bullets and violence. It's almost expected, at this stage, which is the scariest part.

Amy said...

Because some of us are all going to "wake up" from this dream and then everything will be okay - just like the end of bad fiction - no matter what violence was conceived of in our nightmare. Not only the mythology of media, but that of a super-exagerrated reality in general has showcased its wares for the next nutjob(!) to take hold of. What do we make available? Could we fill our dialogue with love so someone would want to grab onto that instead of a gun? I'm all for a beautiful open door draped with delicacy like yours, it helps others know that love is available to them. But this open door, and also a lot of healing, has to reach a few(!) more estranged people.

Michael said...

Marty, always interesting thoughts...I agree with you whole heartedly about the media frenzy, like chum in the water...and although I am not an advocate for guns, don't own or plan to own one, all it takes is one; a knife, a shoe, a tube of "toothpaste," a gun, a plane, a home-made bomb, hands, rope, human will. The laundry list goes on and on and on...the common thread not the weapon, but the simplicity of intent, how does that even begin to change? Sadly, no rule, or law, or authority can begin to stifle the sheer will of one person, that's what makes me so sad and angry...Certainly more people with guns is not the answer, perhpas more people with pens would be a good start... -m

George said...

perhaps more people with pens would be a good start

Well, except for Joe Pesci in Casino.

michael said...

good point...pun intended...-m

Anonymous said...


I was so glad to hear that Bob Hicok was uninjured. When I heard that the student was an English major who took writing courses, all I could think about was Hicok.

This is, of course, nowhere near Hicok-level work, but here is my poem about the tragedy.


I don’t mean the first sex after making up,
the last sex before breaking up,
or, backing up, the sex with your ex.

I don’t mean the first steps out
of prison orange, hearing the familiar clack
of the heavy door, only this time
you’re on the side of the roaming road,
the come-and-go-as-you-please side,
the Daddy let’s color side,
the outside the lines side.

Or what you did with the rainbow trout
who bent your pole, towed your boat,
and, mouth finally bloodied, floppy body
shocked by your gasping tin bucket,
gave you a look that said I’m no wall trophy.
Let me go.

I mean Cho Seung Hui, certified sane,
let loose from the psych ward,
what he did with the trigger.
and then 32 orange and white balloons
lifted up, launched into the night.

Tom C. Hunley