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20 April 2007 @ 06:50 pm
It's a thin line  
Where does creative writing end and criminally actionable psychosis begin? Salon asks the question in an article about the frequent dilemma of English instructors across the nation.

As the Virginia Tech shooter's plays were being shown in tv news broadcasts I was reminded of the string of stories and poems I wrote about suicide when I was a teenager trying to come to terms with my mother's series of attempted suicides. I was just trying to wrap my brain around the reason or reasons why she might have wanted to die, so I had a number of scenarios where my characters decided to kill themselves. The one that comes most readily to mind involved a lonely and isolated elderly widow who decided to starve herself to death and died in her attic surrounded by her mementos and photo albums, remembering her husband and family. (I no longer have the story.) I suppose someone could have concluded that I was suicidal, but that was not the case. I could picture someone writing the oft quoted plays if they were trying to deal with feelings about a past experience of abuse. Who knew the author would end up committing mass murder?

I just hope that we don't end up going too far in the other direction and prevent the kind of catharsis I experienced and insight that I gained in writing my short stories.
Angiextremeroswellia on April 21st, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
Honestly, I've been concerned about the very same thing. A lot of the writing I've done has been of a dark nature and it's a form of catharsis. :/
Tapatitapati on April 22nd, 2007 06:20 am (UTC)
Yes, between those of us who need catharsis, and those who listen to a lot of dark music and watch a lot of horror flicks and fancy themselves a future horror fic writer, it's hard to sort out the really messed up people who need intervention from the rest. It's often only in hindsight that it looks so obvious. For every guy like this who wrote some violent material and then acted out, there are so many more who never do.
labrys6 on April 21st, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC)
I think it is a matter of perspective and proportion, Tapati. If someone is writing nothing BUT gory violence, one surely has to wonder. I do believe that most people, if honest, have to admit to violent or suicidal ideation at some point in their lives---I think it is something people go through to get to where they literally DO live.

But that's the issue, isn't it: this young man did not get THROUGH it at all; he stayed right there and was caught up in his web of hates, and fears and had no way out. I don't know how we spot that and find applicable extrication methods.
Tapatitapati on April 22nd, 2007 06:18 am (UTC)
Trouble is, writing teachers aren't really trained to figure out who is a future horror writer like Stephen King or Dean Koontz vs. who is going to become a school shooter, rapist, or serial killer. I would wonder, too--but I don't think I want English teachers to be the ones who decide to intervene in any forceful way. I read one letter in response to the Salon article from a teacher who simply responds to such pieces on the basic level of writing critique. I think that's the way it should be. I think if other behavior in class is disturbing--in his case he was trying to take snapshots of women's legs with his cellphone camera--then report that by all means and mention the writing in that context.

We have people all over our society saying and writing violent things, and only a small percentage actually do something. My internet stalker who threatened to stab me and cut off my breast has factually used more direct violent language toward a specific person than this guy ever did--and the authorities have not chosen to lock him up. If he ever becomes a shooter, people will look back at those complaints and shake their fingers at the police and FBI who took those reports and didn't act on them. But until then he just looks like a powerless jerk who gets off on trying to scare people via the internet. And maybe he is harmless, more bark than bite. We can't look into his head and know.

I wish we had some machine that could do so. Would save a lot of trouble.
labrys6 on April 22nd, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
Of course English teachers shouldn't be responsible for spotting nutjobs.
But then, on the other hand, EVERYone should be responsible in a sense---for paying attention. It seems more and more often, when bad things happen---the response that comes out is "Well, I was never trained to deal with THAT!". We are becoming a nation, possibly a world full of specialized sorts---and not generalists who can use common sense.

And it includes cops who worry about what some "profiler" somewhere would say. I think we have lost something of ...what to call it? "Societal empowerment"? Nobody feels qualified to take a stand on "this is over the frickin' top" and stick to it.

Finger pointing after the fact does no good at all. It really IS a problem and I don't know how to turn it back. We don't need a machine so much as people who can trust and act upon their conclusions.
3treekisser3treekisser on April 22nd, 2007 08:40 am (UTC)
Agreed. I've certainly written suicidal stuff before, it's a great way to let out stress and nothing more (hey that rhymes!).

I think what people need to do is find out what it is that differentiates someone who writes icky stuff and leaves it at that, versus someone who writes icky stuff and goes on to be even ickier. Once that factor, if it exists, or the set of circumstances is found, then it would take the pressure off of the writing itself.
songspinner9songspinner9 on April 22nd, 2007 04:10 pm (UTC)
I'll second that statement. I can definitely think of some examples when I had, for example, English or Drama students writing pieces to get things out of their system or to share their emotions. Some pretty intense stuff. But I checked in with each to be sure they didn't need further help, and let them do what they needed to do.